WHEN: 6:30 PM CT
WHERE: Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, Ontario, Canada
HOW TO WATCH/LISTEN: Bally Sports Southeast/92.9 FM ESPN Memphis
MEMPHIS: Ja Morant (Out, knee), Sam Merrill (Out, ankle), Ziaire Williams (Questionable, knee)
TORONTO: Goran Dragic (Out, personal), OG Anunoby (Out, hip), Khem Birch (Out, knee), Gary Trent Jr. (Questionable, calf)
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP:
MEMPHIS: Tyus Jones, Desmond Bane, Dillon Brooks, Jaren Jackson Jr., Steven Adams
TORONTO: Fred VanVleet, Svi Mykhailiuk, Scottie Barnes, Pascal Siakam, Precious Achiuwa
The Memphis Grizzlies started their holiday season without Ja Morant well this past Sunday night as they ran the Sacramento Kings out of the gym. This was pretty impressive considering the Grizzlies were without their best player - but make no mistake, the Sacramento Kings were not at full strength either. While Harrison Barnes and Richaun Holmes do not a Ja Morant make in terms of impact, they both are key cogs to a productive Sacramento attack. Memphis had to take advantage of a weakened Kings team - with Ja out, all the wins possible are welcome, regardless of the context they come with.
The same can be said this evening as the Grizzlies head north of the border to take on the Toronto Raptors. OG Anunoby has been a revelation for the Raptors this season, scoring over 20 points per game for a Toronto team that is seemingly stuck between two realities. On one hand, they’re rebuilding, having moved on from their second franchise cornerstone Kyle Lowry and embracing a younger roster as Gary Trent Jr., Precious Achiuwa, and Scottie Barnes take center stage. On the other, players like Fred VanVleet and Pascal Siakam are still around and remember days of more competitive basketball for the Raptors.
How long does that last? A fair question - especially Siakam seems to pop up in trade rumors once every week or so. But Toronto will also not be at full strength against Memphis...just like they weren’t last week when these two teams squared off. And the Grizzlies did indeed have Ja Morant. And Memphis lost...at home. At full strength.
This will not be easy tonight. Here’s how the Grizzlies can make good on a rough last time out against the Raptors.
Slow Fred VanVleet
He has been arguably one of the best players in the NBA so far this season that seemingly very few talk about. He is tied with OG Anunoby for the Raptors lead in points per game at 20.1 while dishing out 6.5 assists and snagging 5 rebounds on average every time out. A 39.3% three point shooter, VanVleet creates issues for whoever is tasked with defending him. He is crafty enough to create space off the dribble/screens while being more than able to make offense for himself if rotations are late to come. On a Raptors teams that is remarkably balanced (five players average more than 15 points per game) VanVleet is the most impactful at this stage of the season.
Last week when these two teams met VanVleet had 23 points on 14 shots alongside 7 assists, 6 rebounds, 2 steals, and 2 blocks. If that happens again Memphis will have a hard time winning this game. The Grizzlies must throw different match-ups at VanVleet (preferably Dillon Brooks/De’Anthony Melton) and make him uncomfortable. He had four turnovers against the Grizzlies last Wednesday - the more possessions for this Memphis offense without Morant, the better.
Continue to spread the love
The Memphis Grizzlies must remember that without Ja Morant there is no need for anyone to attempt to save the season on their own. They were quite successful at this on Sunday against the Kings - Memphis had multiple layers of production across the roster when it came to scoring, rebounding, and offensive facilitation in particular. Ja Morant is a superstar that is impossible to replace. However, if the Grizzlies prioritize playing unselfish basketball, he can be replicated in the aggregate - Moneyball style. It means making the extra pass, setting the additional screen, crashing the glass to limit possessions for Toronto/gain additional offensive chances for the Grizzlies...but it must be done in order to keep pace without the impactful Morant.
Together. If they keep it together, they will have similar success.
The Grizzlies are underdogs in this game by four points to the Raptors. With Ja out, this makes plenty of sense - tip your cap to the home team that even without Anunoby has plenty of offensive balance/fire power. It will take a major effort from Memphis to get through the Raptors. But this team has been looking for something to rally behind, and without Ja on the road for the first time this season there may be an opening to show some growth as a team.
A Toronto win would make total sense, and certainly would not be the end of the world. But give me Memphis in a squeaker.
Memphis 110, Toronto 108