WHEN: 8:00 PM CT
WHERE: Ball Arena in Denver, Colorado
HOW TO WATCH/LISTEN: Bally Sports Southeast/NBA League Pass/92.9 FM ESPN Memphis
MEMPHIS: NONE (!!!!!)
DENVER: Will Barton (Out, hamstring), Jamal Murray (Out, knee), Monte Morris (Out, hamstring)
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUPS:
MEMPHIS: Ja Morant, Grayson Allen, Dillon Brooks, Kyle Anderson, Jonas Valanciunas
DENVER: Facundo Campazzo, PJ Dozier, Michael Porter Jr., Aaron Gordon, Nikola Jokic
The Memphis Grizzlies finish their season-long road trip, almost a tenth of their campaign at seven games, tonight in Denver against the Nuggets. Regardless of the outcome, it is already an indisputable success. Memphis has won four games on this mini-odyssey across the NBA, knocking off the mighty Milwaukee Bucks, fellow playoff-race participants the Portland Trail Blazers (twice), and the Zach LaVine-less Chicago Bulls. They fell to a Los Angeles Clippers team that was without their top players by double digits, an admittedly tough pill to swallow. But their other loss was one to these same Nuggets - well, except for Will Barton, who will not be available tonight - in a double overtime thriller.
Memphis was without their most veteran player, Jonas Valanciunas, on that night. It was also the game before Jaren Jackson Jr. made his return to the Grizzlies rotation. But both will be in the fold tonight for a Memphis squad that is high on confidence and low on reason to be anything but after their mini-series sweep of Damian Lillard and the Trail Blazers. Portland was down Zach Collins, but outside of him was at full strength. The Grizzlies were also missing a key big in both games, and yet they were able to knock off the Blazers on both Friday night and Sunday afternoon. Memphis is dripping in swagger, and that will help them as they try to avenge their loss to Denver a week ago tonight.
Here’s how they can get it done.
Slowing down the likely MVP
No offense to Xavier Tillman Sr. and Brandon Clarke, but Jaren Jackson Jr. and Jonas Valanciunas are the two best bigs on the Memphis Grizzlies. Both were not available for Memphis when they squared off with Denver last week, and the great Nikola Jokic rightfully took advantage. The Grizzlies tried to double team him, and he would make the right skip pass to get a teammate a look. Memphis let Tillman, Clarke, and even at times Kyle Anderson try to limit him out on the perimeter and on the block, and that rarely worked either. Jokic is a monster and a rightful MVP front runner, so there is no shame in getting worked by him. But he stirs the drink for the Nuggets, and if the Grizzlies want to win this game he simply cannot score 47 points on 31 shots while also grabbing 15 rebounds and dishing out 8 assists.
Jonas and Jaren will do it in different ways. Valanciunas will force Jokic to work defensively more than Tillman or Clarke with his combination of size and skill. Jaren will pull Nikola away from the basket with his shooting prowess and because he can handle/create off the dribble will provide different challenges than Jokic dealt with last week. Both combined can help to limit The Joker’s impact on this contest...and they must if the Grizzlies hope to get a victory.
Get Desmond Bane (and others) more shots
Much has been made of Desmond Bane’s perceived limitations in his game. Some folks have said he has short arms (which, yeah, that’s true), that he cannot create off the dribble for himself and others due to a loose handle, and he does not have the athleticism/lateral quickness to have a career as an NBA rotation wing. While there is nothing he can do to dispel the truth of his genetics, he has done plenty to prove doubters wrong in the other areas. He isn’t always an impact player, but he has shown time and again that he has the potential to be a two-way player that can both facilitate offense and play solid team defense.
That all is in addition to, of course, his ability to shoot the cover off the basketball. And yet, the NBA’s sixth leading three point shooter percentage-wise among those that have played at least 30 games so far this season (45.3%) only attempted one three point shot over the last two games against Portland. That’s unacceptable. If opposing teams are taking his first look away more consistently, run sets to get him opportunities. If it is Bane not being aggressive enough on the perimeter, reiterate exactly what makes him so productive as a rookie at this stage of his NBA career. He has shown growth as a playmaker and defender, but it is already an elite shooter. He must let it fly - and the same can be said for the likes of De’Anthony Melton (only three 3’s on Sunday) and Jaren Jackson Jr. (1-6 from beyond the arc in two games played).
The next level for this offense is connected to the three ball. Continue to allow for your better options to get looks in that area.
Denver is rightfully favored in this game. The Grizzlies are on the second night of a back to back, and this is also a dreaded “losing time” back to back, meaning that with Memphis going from the Pacific Time Zone to the Mountain Time Zone they lose an hour to prepare mentally and physically. Thankfully the Grizzlies likely got to Denver with plenty of time to spare in terms of sleep in their hotels, but the fact remains that travel to close this trip is a challenge.
That’s before you take Jokic and crew in to account. With that in mind, the smart play is to take Denver in a game that Memphis surely wants to win. But while the Grizzlies may lose this battle, they have already won the war of this road trip. Regardless of this outcome, they will head home with a winning record. That’s is something to build on, to be sure.
Denver 115, Memphis 107