WHEN: 7:00 PM
WHERE: FedExForum in Memphis, Tennessee
HOW TO WATCH/LISTEN: Fox Sports Southeast/NBA League Pass/92.9 FM ESPN Memphis
MEMPHIS: John Konchar (Questionable, ankle), Ja Morant (Out, ankle), Jaren Jackson Jr. (Out, ankle), Justise Winslow (Out, hip), Killian Tillie (Out, hamstring), Jontay Porter (Out, knee)
Cleveland Cavaliers: Darius Garland (Out, Shoulder), Dante Exum (Out, Calf), Kevin Porter Jr. (Out, Personal Reasons), Matthew Dellavedova (Out, Concussion), Dylan Windler (Out, Hand), Kevin Love (Out, Calf)
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP:
MEMPHIS: Tyus Jones, Dillon Brooks, Kyle Anderson, Brandon Clarke, Jonas Valanciunas
CLEVELAND: Collin Sexton, Isaac Okoro, Cedi Osman, Larry Nance Jr., Andre Drummond
Unfortunately, we won’t get to see Ja Morant try to re-create the iconic poster attempt on Kevin Love. Or Jaren Jackson Jr. against Love. Or the trendy backcourt duo of “Sex-land.” Or each roster at full strength.
Those darn injuries.
However, it should still be a fun contest for your Thursday evening. The Cleveland Cavaliers have been one of the most surprising team in the league, primarily because of the leap from third-year guard Collin Sexton. JB Bickerstaff has found a way to work with the frontcourt trio of Larry Nance Jr., Andre Drummond, and JaVale McGee — small ball be damned.
On the Memphis Grizzlies side, Desmond Bane and Xavier Tillman continue to be early contributors off the bench. Gorgui Dieng and Kyle Anderson — two of everyone’s favorite trade candidates over the offseason — have taken everyone by surprise with their play thus far. You also have Brandon Clarke and Tyus Jones continuing to find their groove as well.
These two young teams are both navigating its excruciatingly long injury list, trying to stay afloat in their respective conferences. What should we watch for this evening?
Slowing Down Sexton
With Darius Garland and Kevin Love out, there is more responsibility on Collin Sexton. He’s the team’s go-to scorer, but now he must take on more playmaking responsibilities. The Grizzlies must take advantage of that by making life difficult on Sexton, since he has hardly any options for playmaking alleviation.
They can accomplish this by throwing a number of looks at him. Depending on who they pair him with in the backcourt, it’s likely that Tyus Jones will be the primary defender on him. However, they should look to throw some size at him to bother his shot.
Dillon Brooks would be a great option here, as he’s hounded point guards. Based off past matchups (Trae Young, Terry Rozier, and LaMelo Ball), he’s held them to 2-9 shooting. If he can stay out of foul trouble, he would be a great disruptor for Sexton.
When he’s attacking the basket, the Grizzlies should look to collapse and alter his shot with size in order to force him to make plays off the bounce under pressure. Doing this could result in turnovers, as he’s not the steadiest playmaker — his assist-to-turnover ratio is 3.4-2.4.
Slowing down Sexton and preventing him from having a big night will go a long way in determining this game.
Continue to Get Brandon Clarke Going
Brandon Clarke hasn’t been the same Clarke from his rookie season. The shot looks messed with and janky, and he’s not scoring at the same efficiency.
On a more positive side, he’s looked more comfortable as a playmaker and shot-taker the past 2 weeks. And though he’s not remotely as efficient by the percentages, his raw numbers are approaching the same ballpark as his rookie season. He also won’t have to go up against the Lakers’ Monstar frontcourt every game.
Over the past 2 weeks — since the Brooklyn game — he’s averaged 12.2 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 1.4 assists on 44.6% shooting.
Going forward, the Grizzlies need to continue putting Clarke in great position to attack and get efficient shots. The Grizzlies need to put him in roll situations with an open lane, and potentially stagger in some minutes with the 2nd unit to see if he can feast on the Cavs’ 2nd-unit big men.
Granted, he’ll have to go up against a tall frontcourt of Larry Nance Jr. and Andre Drummond (with Javale McGee off the bench), but it doesn’t compare to what he experienced against the Lakers.
Though his recent woes overshadow it, Clarke’s success and growth is an integral part to the Grizzlies’ long-term plans. And it all starts with him finding his groove and rekindling his magic from last season. With the volume spike and aggression we’ve seen so far, increasing his efficiency could signal a leap for Clarke.
How do you predict a matchup between two injury-riddled teams missing key components of its system? I’m unsure!
However, given how they’ve played against a full-strength Los Angeles Lakers team this week, I’m going to give the edge to the home team here.
Final Score Prediction: Grizzlies 101, Cavaliers 96