WHEN: 7:00 PM CT
WHERE: United Center in Chicago, Illinois
HOW TO WATCH/LISTEN: Bally Sports Southeast/NBA League Pass/92.9 FM ESPN Memphis
MEMPHIS: Brandon Clarke (Questionable, hip), Jaren Jackson Jr. (Out, knee), De’Anthony Melton (Out, leg), Justise Winslow (Out, thigh)
CHICAGO: Zach LaVine (Out, health and safety protocols), Tomas Satoransky (Probable, back)
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP:
MEMPHIS: Ja Morant, Grayson Allen, Dillon Brooks, Kyle Anderson, Jonas Valanciunas
CHICAGO: Coby White, Tomas Satoransky, Patrick Williams, Thaddeus Young, Nikola Vucevic
The Memphis Grizzlies embark on their longest road trip of the season starting tonight in Chicago against the Bulls. This seven-game journey across the NBA landscape is full of various obstacles - two games against the Nuggets, a back to back against the Trail Blazers, games with the Clippers and Bucks all add up to a difficult run over the next two weeks for the bears of Beale Street. It makes the last second Luka Doncic miracle shot to win on Wednesday night that much more painful. Entering these next seven games, that possible victory could have eased the pain of a stretch away from FedExForum that could quite easily be a 1-6 one for Memphis.
That 1? The game tonight with the Bulls, surely the only one (assuming health and no stars resting for upcoming teams) Memphis will be favored in to win during this road trip. That was likely true even before the news broke yesterday that Zach LaVine would miss the next few games for Chicago after entering the NBA’s COVID-19 health and safety protocols.
Now? This game is as close to a “must-win” as you can get in a season where the team’s expectations were relatively low to begin with.
The Bulls aren’t going to lie down without their leader. Memphis must play well to snag a much-needed victory in Chicago.
Here are some keys to the game
Battle of the bigs
With LaVine out, Bulls big Nikola Vucevic figures to see a pretty considerable uptick in usage as the team’s primary scoring threat. The All-Star is more than capable of lighting up the score board - his 24.1 points per game on the season is a career best, as is his 41.4% three point percentage. In 11 games with Chicago that three point conversion rate is up to 45.6%, a byproduct of running alongside an offensive weapon the likes of LaVine. But will that productivity continue without him?
Jonas Valanciunas has also been dominating opposing big men of late, including Vucevic in their most recent encounter. But it must be pointed out that one of the big reasons Memphis defeated the Bulls four days ago, outside of Jonas’ 26 point, 14 rebound outperformance of Vucci Mane, was Taylor Jenkins making the second half decision to have Kyle Anderson defend Vucevic while Jonas mirrored the less-skilled Thaddeus Young. That didn’t hurt the Grizzlies Monday...but rest assured, Billy Donovan will be prepared for that wrinkle this time.
Thad Young is a good basketball player, and Jonas’ lack of lateral quickness can be exploited there as well. But as usual, the key with Valanciunas is being able to cancel out (and then some) those defensive shortcomings with elite rebounding and scoring around the rim. He is on a good run of late, and that must continue for Memphis to win this game.
Find the mismatches
The Bulls are a team still adjusting to some deadline dealing that altered their trajectory this season. Vucevic isn’t the only player newly arrived in Chicago - Troy Brown Jr., Daniel Thies...there are other moving parts that could make things interesting for Memphis. But that unfamiliarity (Theis, not Vucevic, cooked the Grizzlies early on in Monday’s game) goes both ways. Memphis has the ability to take advantage of the uncertainty that comes from removing and replacing key rotation pieces in such a condensed season.
Find ways to get advantageous switches. Get Ja Morant one on one against a big via a series of picks and screens, or find Desmond Bane open in the corner on a defensive shift gone bad through dribble penetration and ball movement. Regardless of the type of movement, the Grizzlies have to grow in terms of offensive set execution. Memphis wants to get out and run, which is understandable - they do it pretty well. But if they truly hope to be a playoff team, they must improve in the half court offensively. This is a game to work on sets that they hope to prioritize and find success with in the postseason.
As of this writing the Grizzlies are four point favorites in this game, and that seems about right. Chicago has talented players outside of LaVine, and while he will surely be missed it’s not as if the Bulls will completely collapse without him. They have other wings to eat those minutes, and with an All-Star like Vucevic they have better than a puncher’s chance.
But Memphis is the better team. They were on Monday when LaVine played. They are now with LaVine out. Look for a big night from the Grizzlies reserves and another Jonas Valanciunas double-double to pace a team hungry to start a road trip strong after a difficult loss Wednesday.
Memphis 112, Chicago 106