WHEN: 8:00 PM CT
WHERE: Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City, Utah
HOW TO WATCH/LISTEN: Bally Sports Southeast/92.9 FM ESPN Memphis
MEMPHIS: Dillon Brooks (Doubtful, hamstring), De’Anthony Melton (Out, groin), Sam Merrill (Out, ankle)
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUPS:
MEMPHIS: Ja Morant, Desmond Bane, Kyle Anderson, Jaren Jackson Jr., Steven Adams
UTAH: Mike Conley, Donovan Mitchell, Bojan Bogdanovic, Royce O’Neale, Rudy Gobert
The Memphis Grizzlies continue to look like a team that is one of the youngest in the NBA.
That’s not meant to be a compliment.
More than ever before, the immaturity of the Grizzlies is on full display for the basketball world to see. It isn’t that this is really a surprise - their two cornerstone pieces are 22 years-old, after all. But the physical abilities of Ja Morant, Jaren Jackson Jr., and the rest of the Memphis roster isn’t what is currently in question. It is the desire to compete on a nightly basis, especially defensively. And in particular, it is the ability to fight back consistently in the face of adversity.
The young Grizzlies were able to battle back against the Minnesota Timberwolves two weeks ago tonight (before being obliterated by them this past Saturday night), but other than that Memphis has a tendency to get blown out. 7 of their 8 losses are by double-digits. They didn’t lead at all in 4 of those 8 games. They appear to lose interest in these situations, with poor body language and communication leading to games that get out of hand far too easily for the competition.
This could happen again tonight relatively simply. The Utah Jazz remain one of the great teams in the NBA, just as they were when Memphis met them in the playoffs six months ago. Donovan Mitchell, Rudy Gobert, and old friend Mike Conley continue to impact winning at All-Star levels. Their depth is arguably unrivaled in the league. Even with Utah on the second night of a back to back, it will take the very best of the Memphis Grizzlies to hang tonight, especially considering they are undermanned once again.
How can the Grizzlies keep this close?
Give Jaren more minutes at the 5.
It’s so necessary at this point in general. His ability to defend larger/more traditional bigs has improved (see his work against Karl-Anthony Towns two weeks ago as evidence) and he is showing growth as a rebounder (18.4% defensive rebounding percentage is in line with what he did in the spring, a clear improvement) and overall defender without fouling (5.8 fouls per 100 possessions, best of his career). Yes, he is struggling with his offensive game as a scorer - especially inside the arc. 38% overall from the field isn’t good enough. But that is also well below his career average, and even if you think his offensive game is limited for good due to health issues he is likely to progress to his career shooting mean of roughly 46% soon.
Regardless of his current problems putting the ball in the bucket, he remains a threat from beyond the arc that must be respected. Which is why he should see more minutes at Center (yes, overall as well) in this specific game. Rudy Gobert is one of the very best defensive bigs in the history of the NBA at this stage of his career, and he thrives at the rim. Jaren as the 5, and likely Kyle Anderson at the 4, enables Memphis to give Ja Morant and others as much room as possible to get to the bucket and compete off the dribble. Gobert must stay with Jaren, or risk a volume shooter heating up thanks to open looks.
He doesn’t have to worry about that with Steven Adams. Make Utah fret a bit.
Set up Ziaire Williams and John Konchar for success
If Williams and Konchar have to play more than usual/in larger roles than preferred if the team was healthy, Head Coach Taylor Jenkins must find ways to maximize those minutes. Full reserve units likely are not the way to do that. Finding ways to keep Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. with these two as much as possible would give Konchar cutting lanes and Williams open looks from deep as the Jazz prioritize stopping Ja and Jaren. Ensuring multiple creators off the dribble alongside John and Ziaire would allow for those two to focus on ball movement and swinging the ball from one side to the other as opposed to having to create off the dribble...which is not among their collective strengths.
Both Konch and Williams provide value in terms of their ability to provide rebounding (Konchar) and length (Williams). But those key spaces where they can help the Grizzlies win get negated quickly if the team cannot cover up their collective issues. Together they have to find ways to achieve and get their minutes to mean more.
Memphis can hang with anyone when they are invested. And after being called out by Jenkins for putting forth one of their worst efforts in the three years he has been Grizzlies Head Coach, chances are they will compete better in this game. But Melton and Brooks will once again be missed if both do indeed sit, and the Jazz are too good. They’ll capitalize on Memphis mistakes, and Utah will knock off the Grizzlies - by single digits, at least.
Utah 116, Memphis 107