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Memphis Grizzlies vs. Denver Nuggets Game Preview

From one title contender to another

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NBA: Denver Nuggets at Memphis Grizzlies Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

WHO: Memphis Grizzlies (3-3, 1-1 home) vs. Denver Nuggets (4-2, 2-1 away)

WHEN: 7:00 PM CT

WHERE: FedExForum in Memphis, Tennessee

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

INJURY REPORT:

MEMPHIS: Dillon Brooks (Out, hand)

DENVER: Jamal Murray (Out, knee), Vlatko Cancar (Out, hip)

PROJECTED STARTING LINEUPS:

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

DENVER: Monte Morris, Will Barton, Michael Porter Jr., Aaron Gordon, Nikola Jokic


The Memphis Grizzlies being a .500 basketball team entering the month of November should be greeted with celebration.

After all, Ja Morant and company have played multiple games already this season against some of the NBA’s elite. Take current records/circumstances off the table - the league hasn’t even played a tenth of its schedule yet. Entering the season, looking at Memphis’ first six games, if you had said that the Grizzlies would be 3-3 it almost certainly would have been viewed as a success. Aside from the Cleveland Cavaliers game (which, by the way, looks like a more impressive win than originally thought) all the contests were against playoff and/or championship hopefuls.

The Portland Trail Blazers (2019) and Los Angeles Clippers (2021) have been to the Western Conference Finals within the last three seasons. The Golden State Warriors (2019), Los Angeles Lakers, and Miami Heat (2020) have all been to the NBA Finals within the last three seasons. Five of the Grizzlies first six opponents have either been in the NBA’s Final Four or championship series within the amount of time Jaren Jackson Jr. has been in the NBA.

Memphis knocked off two of those squads. At their place. And took another to the brink on the second night of a back to back. On the efforts of a 22-year-old superstar and his teammates that make up the third youngest roster in the NBA.

And tonight the number goes from five of the first six opponents having been in the Conference or NBA Finals to six of the first seven, as the reigning MVP Nikola Jokic and his Denver Nuggets (2020) visit FedExForum.

They’ve played one hell of an early schedule. They’re 3-3.

The Memphis Grizzlies got embarrassed by the Miami Heat. A lot of flaws were on full display. But the season has just begun. Plenty of time to learn and grow.

Here are keys to tonight’s game.

Attack the initiator

NBA: Miami Heat at Memphis Grizzlies Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

The issues with the Grizzlies defense are well documented. They are one of the absolute worst defensive teams in the entire NBA, and this is happening for a variety of reasons. This space isn’t for detailing all that ails the Memphis defense - that’s more along the lines of a 2,000 word feature/film breakdown. However, there is one way that Head Coach Taylor Jenkins and the Grizzlies could try to disrupt the offensive rhythm of their opponents more consistently.

They need to throw bodies at offensive facilitators. Not one. Multiple.

Trapping and pressing at the half court line would provide Memphis an opportunity to dictate the pace and angles of the first parts of a team’s offensive creation. Whether it is a point guard at the top of the key or a big like Jokic at the elbow near the free throw line, getting additional arms and hands in the sight lines of passers means more opportunity for something that the Grizzlies are indeed having success with at the moment - creating deflections and steals (3rd in the NBA in steals per game).

Some of what is wrong with the Grizzlies defense will be fixed when Dillon Brooks returns. Other aspects - like Memphis having to help/over-compensate for the lack of size on the perimeter for the Grizzlies - may not be as repairable. In the short-term, blitzing ball-handlers and trying to force mistakes may be the best course of action to take.

Make Jaren a priority

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Los Angeles Clippers Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Jaren Jackson Jr. is possibly in the midst of one of his worst offensive runs in his NBA career. He has been sound defensively more often than not, making him still serviceable for Memphis, but there’s no denying that his scoring shortcomings have hurt the Grizzlies. So often of late his lack of activity beyond just playing around the three point line has been noticeable - he isn’t attacking off the dribble as much as many hoped he would entering this season. He also is not actively engaged on the block, or consistently off of screens.

How much of that is on Jaren, and how much has to do with coaching/scheme? It’s tough to tell, but safe to say there’s a likely mix involved. JJJ has to be more aggressive getting his shot off the dribble/in the post, but Coach Jenkins has to find ways to get him to those spots on the floor he likes best more often. Until that happens, Jaren will continue to struggle. And if he continues to struggle, so will the Grizzlies.

The Prediction

As of this writing the Grizzlies are a two-point favorite at home, meaning this game is essentially a toss-up. Memphis will be hungry to show they’re better than their last performance, and the criticism that Jaren Jackson Jr. has taken may well motivate him and his teammates to prioritize getting him going on that end. But the Nuggets aren’t going to lie down - Nikola Jokic leads the team in multiple statistical categories, and the Nuggets are currently the 2nd best defensive team in the NBA in terms of rating per basketball-reference.com. This seems ripe for a tough loss for the Grizzlies.

Unfortunately for Denver, Ja Morant plays for the Grizzlies. And Will Barton is no Jimmy Butler. Look for Morant to will Memphis to a win yet again, supported by timely Desmond Bane and Jackson Jr. shooting from three.

Memphis 109, Denver 106

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