WHEN: 5:00 PM CT
WHERE: Golden 1 Center in Sacramento, California
HOW TO WATCH/LISTEN: Bally Sports Southeast/92.9 FM ESPN Memphis
MEMPHIS: Brandon Clarke (Questionable, knee), Santi Aldama (Out, calf), Jarrett Culver (Out, Health and Safety Protocols), Sam Merrill (Out, ankle), Ziaire Williams (Out, Ankle/Health and Safety Protocols)
SACRAMENTO: Marvin Bagley III, Louis King (Questionable, Health and Safety Protocols), De’Aaron Fox, Terence Davis, Alex Len, Davion Mitchell, Neemias Queta (Out, Health and Safety Protocols)
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUPS:
MEMPHIS: Ja Morant, Desmond Bane, Dillon Brooks, Jaren Jackson Jr., Steven Adams
SACRAMENTO: Tyrese Haliburton, Buddy Hield, Harrison Barnes, Chimezie Metu, Richaun Holmes
This is a trap game, Memphis Grizzlies fans.
It is a weakened opponent in the Sacramento Kings that isn’t as good as the Memphis Grizzlies even when everyone is at full strength. But they’re not THAT weakened - the Haliburton/Hield/Barnes/Holmes quartet can create issues for Memphis. While their depth has been tested and is truly where their issues reside - only seven players logged more than 10 minutes in their last game on Wednesday - the cavalry may be coming, as Marvin Bagley III and Louis King reportedly will be available soon after a stay in Health and Safety protocols. The Grizzlies are currently in the midst of a three game losing streak, one where they’re not playing terribly...just not well enough to win.
It is the game after Christmas. The team spent the holiday in California. It is the front end of a back to back, and the much-better Phoenix Suns await on Monday night. The Memphis Grizzlies must maintain focus...or else, they will be staring down a possible five-game losing streak heading back to Memphis, and a tumble back down to the very jumbled middle of the Western Conference postseason picture.
You don’t want that. Here’s how to avoid it.
Let Ja and Jaren cook early
The last time these two teams played, Ja Morant was not in the picture as he recovered from his knee sprain/remained on the Health and Safety Protocols list. But the point guard position still prospered - Tyus Jones posted 14 points (on just 10 shots) and 4 assists to go along with 6 rebounds. This was against this exact same starting backcourt of Haliburton and Hield, and again, was without Morant in the picture. Ja should be able to take advantage of the tired legs (although again, Sacramento has been off three days and should be relatively fresh) as the game goes on even more than Tyus did.
Jaren Jackson Jr. struggled from three (0-3) but still posted 21 points on 15 shots. He managed this by being aggressive against a front court that simply could not defend him without fouling - Jaren got to the charity stripe 9 times in the game, the most of anyone that played from either team. He drove from the perimeter and attacked mismatches in the post, finding ways to get his offensive impact going even though his unique three point marksmanship has left him (for now).
The Kings simply cannot defend Morant and Jackson Jr. consistently. They have to be featured early and often. Let those two eat first, then build up Desmond Bane and Dillon Brooks as Sacramento has to adapt to slow down Ja and Jaren.
Dominate the bench minutes
The aforementioned Jones returns to a reserve role now that Morant is back, and that helps the bench immensely. When Ja was out, it was essentially a back-up point guard by committee look with Desmond Bane, De’Anthony Melton, and Kyle Anderson sharing the load. While all three are capable of initiation and facilitation of offense, being the primary role for any of those three puts them outside of their comfort zone. Tyus’ presence enables Melton and Anderson specifically to get to their spots and find their offense in transition and in rhythm, allowing for Tyus to prioritize finding those looks and lanes to create for others than need that assistance more than, say, Bane, Dillon Brooks, or Jaren Jackson Jr. do.
Even with that being said, Melton and Anderson in particular thrived against the Kings last time out. Kyle posted a very Slow-Mo 6 points, 6 rebounds, 6 assists, +27 in +/- while De’Anthony scored 19 points on 11 shots and had 4 steals, 3 assists, 3 rebounds, and a block. These two are so vital to the success of the Grizzlies both now and in the long view of this season - when they are thriving on both ends, even great bench units can struggle with their versatile games. And having Tyus back by their side more consistently will only make that possibility of productivity larger.
Combine this continued improvement of fit with the weaker Kings depth, even if King and Bagley play? Opportunity abounds.
The Grizzlies are only 4.5 point favorites in this game, and to be honest that feels kind of low. Memphis won by 19 last time around, and that was without Ja Morant in the fold, and Sacramento is still ravaged by COVID. While this will almost certainly be the most rested the Kings have been in some time, and they should be energized by adding some talent back to the fold, the Grizzlies should win this game running away. Sacramento just doesn’t have enough depth to keep the game within two possessions for a full 48 minutes.
Memphis 111, Sacramento 103