WHEN: 5:00 PM CT
WHERE: FedExForum, Memphis, Tennessee
HOW TO WATCH/LISTEN: Bally Sports Southeast/92.9 FM ESPN Memphis
MEMPHIS: Ja Morant (Out, knee) Sam Merrill (Out, ankle)
Sacramento: Richaun Holmes (Out, Illness), Harrison Barnes (Doubtful, Foot), Maurice Harkless (Questionable, Knee)
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUPS:
MEMPHIS: Tyus Jones, Desmond Bane, Dillon Brooks, Jaren Jackson Jr., Steven Adams
SACRAMENTO: De’Aaron Fox, Tyrese Haliburton, Alex Len, Maurice Harkless, Chimezie Metu
And so it begins.
A journey that likely no one within the Grizzlies wants to experience organization has arrived. For the foreseeable future, Ja Morant unfortunately will not be available to lead the Grizzlies into battle against the rest of the NBA. While it does seem to be the best case scenario when it comes to Morant suffering a knee sprain on Friday night compared to more severe outcomes, it remains less than ideal. Now, the Grizzlies must figure out how to find success without their best talent.
According to Cleaning the Glass, without Morant on the court this year, the Grizzlies are 12.3 points worse than their opponents per 100 possessions. It may seem as if the Grizzlies could improve a bit with Morant on the bench; however it is only a slight improvement. The big drop-off is in terms of Memphis’ offensive production. With Morant on the court, the Grizzlies score 112.3 points per 100 possessions. With Morant off the court, that production reduces to 103.5.
In other words, without Morant, there is a legitimate chance the Grizzlies could perform as both a below average offense while remaining a below average defense. That is not a good recipe for success for a team striving for the playoffs. However, Memphis does have precedent of figuring out how to find success without Morant. Last year, with Morant out for eight games with an ankle sprain, Memphis used opportunistic defense and creating advantages on the run and in the paint to stay competitive. Though having Jonas Valanciunas and Grayson Allen helped then, having a full healthy Jaren Jackson Jr. and a more effective Desmond Bane should help now.
The Grizzlies are going to have to find some offensive consistency tonight as they welcome the Sacramento Kings to FedExForum. While the Kings have certainly struggled for most of the year, they are 2-1 under Alvin Gentry. The offense, including De’Aaron Fox and the Kings’ reserves, has looked especially productive.
As a result, the Grizzlies have a tough task ahead of them. One key area for both teams to find an advantage in order to improve their chances to win is shooting the three. However, another key area for the Grizzlies to find an advantage is a big area of weakness for the Kings:
Produce in the Paint
Without one of, if not the best, paint scorers in the league in Ja Morant, this will be much easier said than done. However, the Grizzlies may find that producing in the paint is a bit easier against the Kings than most. Coming into the game today, the Kings allow the most second chance points and points in the paint to opponents in the NBA. With Steven Adams, the Grizzlies certainly have a distinct advantage on the offensive boards. With Jackson Jr, Bane, and Dillon Brooks showing improved abilities to get to the rim, Memphis has plenty of options that can produce in the paint. The key will be moving the basketball to find the right matchup to exploit for an easy ability to get to the rim and score.
Prevent Production from the Foul Line and Bench
The Kings are second in the NBA in free throw attempts per game. For multiple reasons, the Grizzlies must remain disciplined to limit the Kings looks from the charity stripe. For one, without Morant, Memphis cannot afford to go long stretches without Jackson Jr., Brooks, or both due to foul trouble. For another, Memphis cannot let free throws from the Kings limit advantages the Grizzlies find in the paint.
The Grizzlies bench unit must produce. Led by Buddy Hield, Sacramento’s bench has been outstanding since Gentry became their coach. For the Grizzlies, without Tyus Jones (who will likely start), there will be stretches will Memphis will be without a true point guard. In those moments, the Memphis Grizzlies must find some sort of offense to stay with Sacramento.
Even with Morant, this was going to be a tough task for Memphis. With an improved Fox and bench unit, the Kings are a team with clear play-in potential. If Memphis can play good defense, take care of the basketball, and find some success from three, they could get a victory. However, if the Kings remain successful offensively both with their starters and their bench, it may be another tough night for Memphis if shots are not falling.
Final Score: Grizzlies 113 Sacramento 110