WHEN: 7:00 PM CST
WHERE: FedExForum - Memphis, TN
HOW TO WATCH/LISTEN: Bally Sports Southeast/NBA League Pass/92.9 FM ESPN Memphis
MEMPHIS: Grayson Allen (Out, abdomen), Sean McDermott (Out, foot)
NEW ORLEANS: Zion Williamson (Out, finger), Brandon Ingram (Out, ankle), Steven Adams (Out, toe), Josh Hart (Out, thumb)
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUPS:
MEMPHIS: Ja Morant, Dillon Brooks, Kyle Anderson, Jaren Jackson Jr., Jonas Valanciunas
NEW ORLEANS: Eric Bledsoe, Lonzo Ball, Naji Marshall, James Johnson, Willy Hernangomez
Jaren Jackson Jr. is back in the starting lineup. Rejoice, Grizzlies fans!
The third-year big man started alongside Jonas Valanciunas at the 4 spot in Saturday night’s win over the Toronto Raptors. There were concerns over shifting Dillon Brooks and Kyle Anderson down to the 2 and 3, but the early returns were pretty good, as all the starters — except for Jackson — each had a +/- exceeding 20. So far, so good! And for Jackson, he excelled as the team’s leading scorer (20 points on 7-17 shooting and 3-10 from deep) and made a number of eye-popping plays.
It’s a crucial development as they wind down this stretch into the play-in game. They’ll enter a 4-game homestand acting as two sets of back-to-back games. They kick off the stretch with a game against the New Orleans Pelicans. That’s usually spelled trouble for Memphis, as they’ve won every matchup in the “Grz Nxt Gen” era. Tonight’s going to be different, since New Orleans is without both Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram. On paper, that’s great news, but we’ve also seen the Grizzlies struggle against depleted rosters over the past month.
This game will be crucial for the Grizzlies, as it can shrink their magic number to clinch a play-in spot by 2 games. What must go right for the Grizzlies to come out on top here?
Help out Ja
Ja Morant has had two different experiences against the Pelicans this season.
In their first matchup, he was clearly bothered by the defensive tenacity of Eric Bledsoe and the length of Lonzo Ball. He only tallied 16 points on 5-14 shooting.
In the second matchup, he was unstoppable, scoring 28 points on a remarkable 12-16 shooting.
So the Grizzlies need to help Ja Morant out in multiple ways tonight, preparing for whatever performance the young guard is in for. If Bledsoe and Ball are slowing him down, they’re going to need to alleviate playmaking responsibilities off of him to get him off ball, while stepping up in the scoring column as well. If he’s on his game and is all gas and no brakes, then his starting partners will need to keep up with him.
We don’t really know which Ja Morant scoring wise we are going to get each night, but to get the win, his teammates need to be ready to support him for any situation.
Bench Mob Mentality
For the Memphis Grizzlies to avoid one of those losses to a depleted team, they’re going to need their bench to step up. It was a factor in both the Pistons and Clippers losses over the past month, so they need this bench on their A-game in the home stretch.
De’Anthony Melton found his shooting stroke, after an uncharacteristic slump the past couple weeks. Desmond Bane has been rock-solid over the past week as both a 3-level scorer and a secondary playmaker. Brandon Clarke struggled last game, but he had good outings against Minnesota and Toronto on the road trip. The offense has been better with Tyus Jones running the 2nd unit.
The elements are there for them to have a strong outing that helps them elevate the lead, but it’s an interesting challenge.
Kira Lewis and Nickeil Alexander-Walker pose a change of pace from Bledose and Ball, both possessing more of an attack mindset. Jaxon Hayes is a physical force on the opposing side of the floor, who uses his size to play above the rim offensively and protect the rim defensively.
Melton and Bane are going to have to be on their A-games on both ends of the floor, caring the scoring load while keeping Lewis and Alexander-Walker in check. Clarke — or Xavier Tillman, whichever one Coach Jenkins rolls with — will need to find ways to be effective against Hayes’ size.
The matchup between the two benches could go a long way in determining the outcome of this game.
It’s tough to predict this game.
The New Orleans Pelicans are without their 2 best players while coming off a back-to-back, but we’ve also the Grizzlies struggle in these situations. Meanwhile, the Grizzlies should have some extra juice returning home for a 4-game stand and know the stakes at play.
I’m going to roll with the latter.
Prediction: Grizzlies - 119, Pelicans - 107.