WHEN: 9:00 PM CT
WHERE: Chase Center in San Francisco, California
HOW TO WATCH/LISTEN: Bally Sports Southeast/92.9 FM ESPN Memphis
MEMPHIS: Tyus Jones (Questionable, finger), John Konchar (Questionable, foot), Brandon Clarke (Out, knee), Santi Aldama (Out, calf), Sam Merrill (Out, ankle), Ziaire Williams (Out, ankle)
GOLDEN STATE: Damion Lee (Out, Health and Safety Protocols), Andrew Wiggins (Out, Health and Safety Protocols), Jordan Poole (Out, Health and Safety Protocols), James Wiseman (Out, knee), Klay Thompson (Out, Achilles)
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP:
MEMPHIS: Ja Morant, Desmond Bane, Dillon Brooks, Jaren Jackson Jr., Steven Adams
GOLDEN STATE: Steph Curry, Moses Moody (Maybe?), Jonathan Kuminga, Draymond Green, Kevon Looney
The Memphis Grizzlies are out west for the Christmas holiday, and California dreaming perhaps can take their collective mind off the current state of things. That’s not to say everything is bad in their world. Even after losing two games in a row at home this past Sunday and Monday, the Grizzlies are 8-3 this month and have a real chance to win double-digit games in December. That’s a good run in the NBA, no matter what team you are.
But between the drama of (reportedly) two fans heckling Ja Morant courtside Monday night impacting Ja’s psyche and the current issues the NBA (and the world) are dealing with as the Omicron variant of COVID-19 says Winter 2021 is the new Spring 2020 (not really - vaccinations, testing, etc...we’re in a better place), it seems like things are more off than they really are. Perception is reality, of course, especially with regard to the way the Grizzlies are playing of late. The team has lost its offensive rhythm, shooting under 40% for two games in a row, and at the absolute worst times they have misplaced their defensive energy and focus. It makes for a recipe for disaster - even against struggling squads like the Trail Blazers and Thunder.
The Golden State Warriors, however, are not struggling on the court. Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, and the crew are thriving right now as a basketball team. But they’re among those in the NBA that have been hit by COVID-19 of late, and they’ll be without several key players in this game because of it.
How much will it matter? Keys to the game.
Disrupt Draymond’s Rhythm
Steph Curry gets a lot of the attention for the Warriors. Understandably so - he is, of course, the greatest shooter in the history of the NBA. However, the Golden State resurgence goes beyond his MVP campaign. Draymond Green has experienced a career renaissance all his own, reestablishing himself as one of the uniquely gifted players in all the NBA. Defensively, he is a force of nature. He is strong enough to defend on the block, quick enough to shift and switch on the perimeter, and smart enough to offset any physical disadvantage he may face in either area. Offensively, he’s back to facilitating offense and making good decisions as a passer/screener to create scoring opportunities for others before himself.
It isn’t perfect. Being a 6’6” center gets him in trouble at times. But a vast majority of the minutes he is on the floor, he impacts winning in multiple ways. In order for Memphis to pull the upset here (and yes, expect Memphis to be the underdog despite all the COVID absences for Golden State) they will have to throw off the reads and general vibes of Draymond. Attacking him off the dribble with Jaren Jackson Jr., using the size and strength of Steven Adams to wear him down...the list of names goes on and on as to how to make Green’s energy less apparent throughout the schemes of Golden State.
Curry is the head of the snake. But Draymond may be the brain.
Win the non-Curry minutes
The bench was a major contributor to the recent run of Grizzlies success. That has fallen away in the last two games. Even with Tyus Jones out on Monday night (and potentially tonight as well), Memphis still had two very good reserve players in De’Anthony Melton and Kyle Anderson available. They both struggled, especially offensively, and while no one expects these two to be Lou Williams-esque microwave scorers off the bench more is needed than their combined 3-14 from the field against the Thunder.
The Warriors have a solid bench. Otto Porter Jr. and Memphis Grizzlies legend Andre Iguodala lead that charge when Jordan Poole isn’t available, but even without Poole Golden State has the capacity to defend and make things difficult for the Grizzlies on offense in particular. If those two (and someone like Gary Payton II, who scored 12 in their last outing against the Kings) get to double digit scoring, in addition to their defensive acumen? The Grizzlies won’t be able to win the minutes when Steph Curry is out - which they almost certainly must do to win.
Anderson and Melton are big X-Factors in this contest. If they’re playing well? Bet on Memphis being in the fight. If they struggle? The game may be over early.
This game is currently not available to be bet on - probably because of COVID uncertainties. But make no mistake, the Warriors are viewed as the superior squad. Golden State has the fire power to make Memphis frustrated offensively and out of position defensively, even in their current state. But what will almost certainly keep the Grizzlies in this game is the fact that Ja Morant has even more motivation than normal to show what he can do. And he has bested Curry before, on a bigger stage than this one (in the 2021 Play-In Game).
A full strength Warriors team beats Memphis 9 times out of 10. This Golden State team could also very well win - but my gut tells me they’re going to be searching for the two Ja hecklers like the rest of us after Morant takes out his frustrations on them. And the Grizzlies will reap the benefits.
Memphis 109, Golden State 105