WHEN: 8:00 PM CT
WHERE: Smoothie King Center New Orleans, Louisana
HOW TO WATCH/LISTEN: Fox Sports Southeast/NBA League Pass/92.9 FM ESPN Memphis
MEMPHIS: , Jaren Jackson Jr. (Out, knee), Jontay Porter (Out, knee), Justise Winslow (Out, hip), Brandon Clarke (Questionable, Calf)
New Orleans: Naji Marshall (Day-to-Day, Ankle)
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUPS:
MEMPHIS: Ja Morant, Dillon Brooks, Kyle Anderson, Brandon Clarke, Jonas Valanciunas
NEW ORLEANS: Eric Bledsoe, Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Zion Williamson, Steven Adams
Following the Grizzlies loss to the Rockets on Thursday night, the message from Kyle Anderson and Ja Morant of not being “too high or too low” was a perfect reaction to the past week. It feels logical that the Grizzlies played two games at the ceiling of their potential against San Antonio while bottoming out against Indiana and Houston. The offense and defense both declined significantly over the last two games, with the starters specifically struggling quite a bit when on the court.
While many new and encouraging trends have certainly emerged this season for the Grizzlies, one familiar truth that has carried over from last year is the fact that the Grizzlies bench, besides its early struggles, is more advantageous than its starting lineup. Since December 29th, the day after Ja Morant injured his ankle, the Grizzlies starters rank last in points per game, last in free throw attempts per game, last in 3PFG% and 25th in FG% among NBA starting units. Fortunately, over that same timeframe, the Grizzlies bench is leading the league’s reserve units in PPG, APG, FG% and 3PFG%. The end result is a competitive team that can pull off some surprising victories if the starters are playing well; however, if they are not, Memphis does not have much room for error, as the last two losses have shown.
While the last two defeats have been a bit of a reminder that the Grizzlies still have their limitations in terms of overall talent, many players are certainly starting to get better. Tyus Jones, Brandon Clarke, and De’Anthony Melton, along with the shooting of Gorgui Dieng and Desmond Bane, all are highly encouraging developments. The Grizzlies’ starters will likely remain inconsistent, but the bench can remain highly productive. Even if their shooting regresses a bit, they should be able to remain around .500 until some of their better talents return. Thankfully, Jonas Valanciunas and Grayson Allen will make their returns tonight to give the Grizzlies some added depth.
The return of Valanciunas at the very least will bring needed post depth and size for a matchup against a team in the New Orleans Pelicans who find a lot of success in the paint and at the rim. New Orleans is seventh in the league in points in the paint and fifth in the league in shots at the rim. They also get to the line at a rate among the best in the league. When New Orleans is getting to the rim at will and converting, they are at their best.
The Grizzlies also are quite productive in the the paint on both ends of the court as well. However, their productivity shooting and defending the three can really make the difference in tonight’s game.
WIN ON THE PERIMETER-
On the season, the Grizzlies are allowing nine less three point attempts per game than the Pelicans. The main reason why teams are shooting more threes versus the Pelicans is due t0 their size in the paint. The end result is the Pelicans ranking 30th in the league in threes allowed per game from their opponents. The Grizzlies ability to defend the three better than New Orleans could be a needed advantage in tonight’s game.
This is especially true considering that both the Grizzlies and Pelicans are among the worst three point shooting teams in the league. However, in terms of their benches, as mentioned above, Memphis is the best shooting reserve unit in the NBA from beyond the arc. The Pelicans bench is 28th in the league in 3PFG%. A big need for the Grizzlies tonight is another stellar shooting night from Bane, Melton, Tyus Jones, and others.
A big reason why the Grizzlies need to find success from three is due to the fact that the Pelicans are among the best rebounding teams in the league. They are seventh in DREB% and third in OREB% in the NBA. This means they limit extra looks for other teams while also finding ways to create their own. The Grizzlies must box out on a consistent basis to find success. Though the Grizzlies did not play well Thursday night, they jumped out to a significant advantage in second chance looks. The Grizzlies must show that same aggressiveness tonight. If Brandon Clarke cannot play, they could be a significant loss for Memphis.
Obviously, the big storyline in this game is the continued friendly and fun rivalry of Ja Morant and Zion Williamson. A big development in tonight's game is which player will be most effective at lifting his team’s offense. Morant could find life tough once again in the paint. If he can hit a few shots and make sound passes to counter that obstacle, Memphis could have their chances to win. In the end, whoever shoots better from distance is going to have a sizable advantage in this contest; between these two rosters, the Grizzlies simply have more reliable shooting depth right now. If it shows up, the Grizzlies can get a needed victory over a division rival to put the past two games behind them.