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Memphis Grizzlies at Los Angeles Clippers Preview

New look, old rivalry.

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NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Los Angeles Clippers Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

WHO: Memphis Grizzlies (1-0) at Los Angeles Clippers (0-1)

WHEN: 9:30 PM CT

WHERE: Staples Center in Los Angeles, California

HOW TO WATCH/LISTEN: Bally Sports Southeast/92.9 FM ESPN Memphis

INJURY REPORT:

MEMPHIS - Dillon Brooks (Hand, Out)

LOS ANGELES - Kawhi Leonard (ACL, Out), Jason Preston (foot, out), Keon Johnson (questionable), Serge Ibaka (questionable), Nicolas Batum (questionable)

PROJECTED STARTING LINEUPS:

MEMPHIS: Ja Morant-De’Anthony Melton-Desmond Bane-Jaren Jackson Jr.-Steven Adams

LOS ANGELES: Reggie Jackson, Eric Bledsoe, Paul George, Marcus Morris Sr., Ivica Zubac

GAMBLING INFO (Via DraftKings):

Grizzlies underdog (+3.5), O/U 226, Memphis +140 L.A. -160 money line


Oh my, how good is it to be back!

Back in the Grizzlies-Clippers battles of the last decade, the Grizzlies were able to use gritty defense to contain the Clippers superstar point guard. But the times are a-changin’, and it’s now the Clippers who will seek to use stout defense to slow down the Grizzlies ascendent superstar point man.

Ja Morant’s rising superstar status was, of course, on full display in the Grizzlies season/home opener, as he gashed the Cleveland Cavaliers for 37 points to go along with 6 rebounds and 6 assists. At this point, I’d say it’s safe to say that “season opener Ja Morant” is the best basketball player in human history.

The Clippers, on the other hand, lost their season opener to the Golden State Warriors 115-113. They led throughout most of the second half, until Paul George did the most Paul George thing imaginable and started talking trash to Stephen Curry, who had 24 points in the 1st quarter alone mind you, late in the 4th quarter. Curry then promptly followed that smack-talk up by making two threes in a single minute to give the Warriors the lead and ultimately the victory.

So the Grizzlies will look to ride their momentum to win their first game of a tough four-game west coast road trip, and the Clippers will look to avenge an opening-night loss.

Here are two keys to the game for the Grizzlies:

Defensive Leadership

NBA: Cleveland Cavaliers at Memphis Grizzlies Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

Against the Cavaliers the Grizzlies struggled to contain on the perimeter, which often led to easy dribble-drives which then also led to open threes on kick outs. I’m not particularly worried about the Grizzlies perimeter defense for the entire season; Dillon Brooks has grown into a premier stopper, and he’ll soon be back to help cover a multitude of sins.

However, the Grizzlies will not have Brooks on this road trip and they’ll be facing some elite perimeter scorers, including one Paul George. George just diced up a team with several great perimeter defenders for 29 points on 12-23 shooting. He’s emboldened in his role as a primary scorer in the absence of Kawhi Leonard after a prolific postseason, and he’ll be looking to pick right up where he left off against the Warriors.

I won’t sugarcoat it: there won’t be many easy answers for the Grizzlies in this matchup or throughout the rest of this road trip. Desmond Bane and De’Anthony Melton are just too small for these types of lineups. If I were Taylor Jenkins, I’d use Jaren Jackson Jr. as George’s primary defender and let Bane muscle up with Marcus Morris. Kyle Anderson should also spend some time as his primary defender.

Speaking of Jaren Jackson Jr...

Unleash Jaren Jackson Jr.

NBA: Cleveland Cavaliers at Memphis Grizzlies Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

Jaren was a bit of a mixed bag in the season opener. From a positive perspective, he was a unicorn out there doing unicorn things, as he made 3 threes and had 4 blocks. However, he also didn’t make a single shot inside the paint and struggled with the Cavs physicality and size.

Fortunately, that won’t be a problem for him tonight against the Clippers. There’s not a soul on their team that can guard him. If they try to get away with putting Zubac on him, he’ll score with ease from the perimeter. As far as the paint is concerned, Morris is simply too small to contend with him down low, and the Clippers did not play a single other big in their rotation on opening night, unless you count the corpse of Grizzlies legend Justise Winslow.

The Grizzlies didn’t need an inspiring performance offensively from Jaren to beat the Cavs. Ja Morant was being guarded by little people (and Isaac Okoko), and Desmond Bane was being defended by Lauri freaking Markannen for crying out loud. But they will need him to stand out more against the Clippers, and he’ll have every opportunity to do so.

The Prediction

The Grizzlies are an underdog in this game, but I think they should win. My gut tells me that they’re a better team than the Kawhi-less Clippers, and I think they’ll put on a better defensive showing than they did in the opener against a marquee scorer like Paul George.

I think this will be a Jaren Jackson Jr. game. I think he’ll prove problematic for the Clippers as a rim protector since they lack elite size and athleticism, and he’ll have his first 30-point game of the season against a team that lacks the proper personnel to defend his skill-set.

Ja Morant will continue to be Ja Morant, and the Grizzlies will win and consequently cover.

Grizzlies 111, Clippers 107

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