WHEN: 7:00 PM CT
WHERE: FedExForum in Memphis, Tennessee
HOW TO WATCH/LISTEN: Fox Sports Southeast/NBA League Pass/92.9 FM ESPN Memphis
MEMPHIS: Jaren Jackson Jr. (Out, knee), Justise Winslow (Out, hip), Killian Tillie (Out, hip), Brandon Clarke (Out, calf), De’Anthony Melton (Out, shoudler)
TORONTO: OG Anunoby (Out, calf), Patrick McCaw (Out, knee)
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUPS:
MEMPHIS: Ja Morant, Dillon Brooks, Kyle Anderson, Xavier Tillman Sr., Jonas Valanciunas
TORONTO: Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, Norman Powell, Pascal Siakam, Aron Baynes
Over the last three games, the Memphis Grizzlies have been outclassed by three different opponents in three different ways. Against the Indiana Pacers Memphis was beaten and battered by impressive bigs. With the Rockets, the Grizzlies weren’t able to handle the backcourt of John Wall and Eric Gordon. The Pelicans loss was a better overall performance from Memphis (thanks in large part to Jonas Valanciunas’ return) but the fourth quarter was a pretty epic collapse, one where the Grizzlies went from the lead to down double digits in a matter of minutes.
Three games. Three defeats. Three different ways to lose. But all in all there was an overarching theme.
The starters are struggling. And the bench, while thriving, isn’t able to make up for those tough times. It isn’t one player’s issues. It’s all of them together not competing at a high enough level. The Grizzlies Standard isn’t about one player. It is the whole. And right now, the whole has a hole.
Jaren Jackson Jr. isn’t walking through that door. So help, for now, must come from within.
Here’s what the Grizzlies have to do to right the ship against Toronto.
Get Ja Morant Going
Over the current three game losing skid, Morant has looked far from himself as a scorer of the basketball. He is shooting roughly 33% from the field (and under 20% from three) and he simply has not been himself. Is it his conditioning? Is his ankle still bothering him? To Ja’s credit, he won’t use either of those as an excuse. Could it be that he simply has hit a tough stretch of competition? Perhaps - the Pacers, Rockets, and Pelicans all boast guards and wings that can blitz dribble handoff looks and pick and roll movements, forcing Ja to be uncomfortable.
Since Morant is playing, we must critique his play with the context of injury returns playing a smaller role in our thought process. However, this isn’t just a “Ja must finish better” or “Morant must figure it out” issue. This is a moment of opportunity for growth for Head Coach Taylor Jenkins and his staff as well. As a coach, if opponents have you figured out you have to adapt. Allow for Morant to run off of screens and play off ball more. When he is on the ball, set double and staggered screens and get him more space to create off the dribble with. There must be more variety in the offense, especially when Morant is involved.
Adapt or die. Ja is a survivor. The team will be fine...but this is a chance for development. Will Jenkins and company answer the call?
Convince Dillon Brooks to chill
Maybe Steven Adams is the only one that can stop Dillon Brooks.
Jokes aside, this space will not be dedicated to trashing Dillon. My stance on Brooks has been quite clear - he has never played in his ideal role as a member of the Memphis Grizzlies. He’s been asked since his arrival to do more than his talent is capable of doing on a consistent basis. His confidence and mental toughness are elite - that’s known. But the hot or cold nature of his game makes that self-belief frustrating at best and infuriating far too often.
Dillon wasn’t to blame the Pacers debacle. But the last two losses Brooks shot a combined 9-30 from the floor and on Saturday night Dillon did something he should never do, but does far too regularly - took more shot attempts than Ja Morant. Meanwhile, Brooks only had four assists in the last three games - meaning he’s been averaging a little over one assist a game. That’s far too low, and a drastic departure from an area of development in Dillon’s game he talked about with such pride earlier in the year.
Memphis needs Brooks to defend and score. He’s one of their best combinations of those two areas, at least in terms of length, tenacity, mentality, and willingness to attack. That has value. But he must get back to picking his spots better, otherwise the team will continue to lack offensive pop.
The Toronto Raptors are three point favorites entering this contest, and that feels like a fair number. After all, the Raptors boast both a talented backcourt (Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet) and a versatile big (Pascal Siakam) that the Grizzlies had issues with last week. Toronto should be favored - especially considering the fact that Memphis is right back to missing two key rotation players in Melton and Clarke, who are replacing Grayson Allen and Jonas Valanciunas on that far too long of a list. However, the return of Jonas Valanciunas to the starting lineup - or at least a larger role - should help get Morant going, as Jonas is an excellent screen setter on the pick and roll. Getting Ja going early must be prioritized, as Big 12’s swagger helps drive the Grizzlies machine.
Ja understands the stakes. He knows he has to be better as a scorer and defender. And tonight, Memphis sees a step back in the right direction for Morant.
Memphis Grizzlies 115, Toronto Raptors 112