WHEN: 9:00 PM CT
WHERE: Golden 1 Center - Sacramento, CA
HOW TO WATCH/LISTEN: Fox Sports Southeast/NBA League Pass/92.9 FM ESPN Memphis
MEMPHIS: Brandon Clarke (questionable, calf), Jaren Jackson Jr. (out, knee), Sean McDermott (day-to-day, shoulder), De’Anthony Melton (out, shoulder), Killian Tillie (out, foot), Justise Winslow (out, hip), Jontay Porter (out, G-League Assignment), Desmond Bane (out, personal)
SACRAMENTO: Marvin Bagley (day-to-day, calf), De’Aaron Fox (day-to-day, knee)
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUPS
MEMPHIS: Ja Morant, Grayson Allen, Dillon Brooks, Kyle Anderson, Jonas Valanciunas
SACRAMENTO: Tyrese Haliburton, Buddy Hield, Glenn Robinson III, Harrison Barnes, Richuan Holmes
The 2020-21 Memphis Grizzlies, thus far at least, fit the definition of a feast or famine team. Their season to this point has consisted of seven-game winning streaks and four-game skids. And with over one-third of the calendar season in the rearview mirror, Memphis’ 10-11 record reflects their inconsistency. It wasn’t long ago when the national media universally lauded the Grizzlies for their stifling team defense. Yet, this narrative has flipped as of late — Memphis has allowed a staggering 118 points per game over their last five.
This team’s recent stretch of spiritless defense contradicts their defense-first mentality that resulted in the Grizzlies playing some of the best basketball we’ve seen from them in years. There would be no better game to get back on track than against a playoff contender in the Sacramento Kings, a squad primed to be in the play-in conversation come summertime. The season series between these two teams may have significant implications down the line. Here are some areas of focus for the Grizzlies as they aspire to reach the .500 mark.
Defend without fouling
Speedster floor general De’Aaron Fox is potentially sitting this one out with a knee impingement. The Grizzlies may dodge a bullet since Fox is a brilliant player. Still, the Kings boast a capable offensive attack even sans their head of the snake — they earn their way to the charity stripe with remarkable consistency. Sacramento attempts a healthy 23.8 free throws per game, good for sixth in the entire NBA. Tyrese Haliburton, Harrison Barnes, Cory Joseph, and Buddy Hield all put constant pressure on the defense as dribble-drive threats. Coach Taylor Jenkins indeed is emphasizing stout and disciplined rim protection, especially when taking into account the fact that the Kings, like the Grizzlies, aren’t a three-point shooting team (20th in makes and 21st in attempts), and the Lakers took a whopping 33 free throws in Friday’s loss.
Keep a keen eye out for how many times the Kings head to the charity stripe. If Sacramento reaches or eclipses their season average of 23.8 tries, the Grizzlies will be hard-pressed to come away victorious. A reasonable magic number could be 20. Should the Kings be held to or below this number, Memphis can steal a road win.
Dominate the offensive glass
This Sacramento team is many things (youthful, auspicious, deep), but tall isn’t one of them. The Kings are averaging the fifth-fewest defensive boards in basketball. Richuan Holmes, although a serviceable starting center, is undersized for the position at 6’10”. The seven-footer Jonas Valanciunas owns a significant height and weight advantage over Holmes and should have opportunities to generate extra possessions for the Grizzlies. Sure, Hassan Whiteside is a traditional center and a terrific rebounder, but he averages just 14.4 minutes per game this season. Valanciunas will likely face off against the smaller Holmes for the majority of his run time.
But it’s not just Valanciunas that should prioritize creating second-chance possibilities — crashing the boards is a team effort, and the Grizzlies are collectively one of the strongest in this regard. They rank sixth in the NBA in offensive rebounds per game, Xavier Tillman and Gorgui Dieng consistently battle for extra possessions. With the high likelihood that stretch-four and pedestrian board-snatcher Nemanja Bjelica will be checking one of either Tillman or Dieng, Memphis’ bigs will possess the physical advantage in most of the head-to-head matchups with Sacramento’s front line. The Grizzlies behemoths using their brute strength to their advantage could perhaps be a deciding factor towards the outcome of this one.
Sacramento and Memphis reside near each other in the Western Conference standings and are hellbent on ending their playoff droughts. By all accounts, Grizzlies faithful should be in for a neck and neck affair. Tyrese Haliburton is a winning player and isn’t going to back down from the challenge of battling Ja Morant. Buddy Hield can shoot the lights out and will be quite the defensive test for Dillon Brooks.
Notwithstanding, the Kings will likely feel the absence of De’Aaron Fox in crunch time and ultimately come up short in the final minutes. Memphis’ go-to scoring options in Morant and Valanciunas are superior to those of this injured Sacramento team, a reality that Sacramento will learn the hard way when it’s winning time.
Kings 100, Grizzlies 107