WHERE: AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami, Florida
WHEN: 7:00 PM CT
HOW TO WATCH/LISTEN: Bally Sports Southeast/NBA League Pass/92.9 FM ESPN Memphis
MEMPHIS: Jaren Jackson Jr. (Out, knee), Justise Winslow (Out, thigh), De’Anthony Melton (Out, leg), Brandon Clarke (Questionable, calf)
MIAMI: KZ Okpala (Out, Health and Safety Protocols), Gabe Vincent (Probable, knee)
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUPS:
MEMPHIS: Ja Morant, Grayson Allen, Dillon Brooks, Kyle Anderson, Jonas Valanciunas
MIAMI: Victor Oladipo, Duncan Robinson, Jimmy Butler, Trevor Ariza, Bam Adebayo
The Memphis Grizzlies have slowly but surely climbed up the standings in the Western Conference. From a play-in fringe squad to a team that is almost as close to the 7 seed as they are the 11, Ja Morant’s crew has found some shooting stroke from beyond the arc while still maintaining the defensive intensity that has kept them in the mix all season long. The Grizzlies “standard” of unselfish basketball continues to be the guiding light for this young group of players - when success accompanies a vision, it makes it that much easier to buy in.
Tonight, a reminder of just how much easier life would possibly be for Memphis if they were in the Eastern Conference. For the Grizzlies, at 24-23, are hanging on to the eight seed by a thread. The Miami Heat, at 26-24, are very solidly in the playoff conversation and appears to be a likely contender to host a first round series. While only three games separates the current 4 and 5 seeds in the East and the nine seed, after their deadline deal to bring in Victor Oladipo Miami seems to be more inclined to enter the upper echelon of the East alongside the Nets, Sixers, and Bucks than to resemble the Hawks and Hornets moving forward.
The Heat, after all, were the East’s representative in the NBA Finals last season. They may well be primed to do that again this season.
Can the Grizzlies cool off the current four game winning-streak owning Heat? Keys to the game.
Rebound as one
Even the most ardent Jonas Valanciunas doubter cannot deny Jonas’ strength as a consumer of the ball off the glass. For a team like the Memphis Grizzlies - who seemingly struggle in this area beyond Valanciunas - his ability to take that load on and carrying it not just willingly but at an elite level holds tremendous value. This skill makes his defensive shortcoming much easier to stomach - without Jonas, who would crash the boards?
A fair question. But even with Valanciunas on the floor, the Grizzlies must continue to prioritize rebounding as a unit if they hope to continue on their winning ways.
In their most recent win, Memphis was of course led by Jonas in rebounding by 12 total boards. But five players beyond the Lithuanian leviathan - including every starter - snagged at least five rebounds. This is wonderful to see, and hopefully this attention to the glass sticks around. Whether Valanciunas is a part of the long-term plans of the Grizzlies or not, there is no denying that the team must commit to rebounding more as a whole. It limits opposing team’s opportunities, gains you additional ones on the offensive end, and can also lead to easy transition looks if a wing or ball handler is able to take the rebound and get our on the run.
There are a ton of reasons to attack the glass as a team. And the Grizzlies appear ready and willing to make the most of those opportunities.
Get up more threes
If you’ve read this blog long enough, you know that I struggled with Taylor Jenkins’ desire to play Jae Crowder so much in the 2019-2020 season while he was in Memphis. Folks would try to explain his “gravity” to me, and his perceived skill despite his piss poor conversion rate shooting threes for the Grizzlies. Imagine if Dillon Brooks, shooting almost 33% from beyond the arc, shot roughly 4% worse than that on half a shot more on average per game. Fans would lose their minds! Yet Crowder got a pass from many - including the man whose opinion of course matters most, Head Coach Taylor Jenkins.
Yes, Crowder brought other items to the table. But the fact was that Crowder was willing to play the way Jenkins wanted him to, and he was rewarded with playing time. This season, Grayson Allen has taken on that role - and he is far better at it than Crowder ever was. 41.1% shooting on over 5 attempts per game is very good, and is worthy of respect and the spot of the rotation Grayson currently has. But the important piece is the fact that others, like Desmond Bane and De’Anthony Melton (who is out for this game), are shooting higher percentages from the arc than even Allen is. Yet both of them are shooting more than one less three per game on average.
This isn’t a knock on Grayson. He is launching from range, like Jenkins wants him to. And he is converting at an excellent clip. It is about prioritizing spreading the love, and getting more looks beyond the arc for the Banes of the world when their minutes come. The spacing and movement off the ball that can be even more effective at the rim due to it will make the Grizzlies more of an offensive threat.
The Grizzlies are currently five point underdogs to the Heat, and that seems fair. The game is in Miami, and they are indeed on a four game winning streak while dealing with fewer injuries than Memphis is at the moment. Expect the Grizzlies to keep it close throughout, but for the All-Stars of Miami to help them pull away late.
Miami 112, Memphis 105