WHEN: 7:00 PM CT
WHERE: FedExForum in Memphis, Tennessee
HOW TO WATCH/LISTEN: Bally Sports Southeast/NBA League Pass/92.9 FM ESPN Memphis
MEMPHIS: Jonas Valanciunas (Questionable, back), Grayson Allen (Out, abdomen), Sean McDermott (Out, foot)
SACRAMENTO: Harrison Barnes (Doubtful, adductor), De’Aaron Fox (Out, health and safety protocols), Tyrese Haliburton (Out, knee), Marvin Bagley III (Doubtful, groin), Robert Woodard (Out, back), Buddy Hield (Probable, ankle)
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUPS:
MEMPHIS: Ja Morant, Dillon Brooks, Kyle Anderson, Jaren Jackson Jr., Jonas Valanciunas
SACRAMENTO: Delon Wright, Buddy Hield, Maurice Harkless, Chimezie Metu, Richaun Holmes
The Memphis Grizzlies are play-in bound, and almost certainly will be either the 8 or 9 seed in the festivities as things get under way next week. There’s a pretty massive difference between the two destinies - the 8 seed means a date with either Dallas, Portland, or Los Angeles but two chances to win one game to make the playoffs. The 9 seed means an “easier” first game against the 10 seeded San Antonio Spurs, but then a do or die showdown with the loser of the 8-9 game (one of the previously mentioned teams not named the Spurs, or Steph Curry’s Golden State Warriors). Safe to say, the 8 seed makes the most sense. And that particular slot will likely be on the line this Sunday as Memphis looks ahead to a date with the Warriors.
They’d better not look too far ahead to their 8 seed competition, however. Because the Sacramento Kings are still mathematically alive for the play-in. And despite being without multiple talented players, they’re capable of knocking off this Grizzlies team. We’ve seen Memphis come out flat against “inferior” competition before. It can surely happen again - and Sacramento, even without its best lineups, are still playing for “something”.
How can the Grizzlies keep the good times rolling and get a win that would allow for them to rest key players Friday night? It’s not possible now for Memphis to catch Golden State without beating them Sunday...but a victory tonight over the Kings makes that Sunday showdown for the 8 seed no matter what. So a well-deserved game off could be on the horizon for the weary key Grizzlies players...if they take care of tonight’s challenge with the Kings.
Keys to the game-
Attack, attack, attack
The Sacramento Kings have the absolute worst defensive rating in the entire NBA. 30th out of 30 teams in the league. That is before their injuries to several key players, such as Harrison Barnes and Tyrese Haliburton, who are capable defenders on their own outside of potential scheme issues for the Kings. Sacramento doesn’t have enough consistent rim protection or perimeter rotation to keep up on most nights, and if Memphis plays unselfishly - the way they’re capable of - this game will not be much different. Harkless and Hield aren’t world beaters on that end of the floor, and with those struggles in mind the Grizzlies should prioritize swinging the ball on the perimeter off of their initial dribble drive and kick actions. Stressing the movement of this defense more often than not will result in what your hoping for offensively more often than not.
Eat on the glass
The Kings are dead last in the NBA in rebounding, and that sound you just heard was a growl from the stomach of a certain Lithuanian Leviathan that’s surely excited to eat against Sacramento. Richaun Holmes is an underrated player and could give Jonas Valanciunas fits in spots with his roll ability and athleticism/effort that he plays with. But on the boards? Jonas is a massive presence - and it isn’t just him that should give the Grizzlies the advantage in this one. The rebounding prowess of De’Anthony Melton, Kyle Anderson and others has been discussed here, there, and everywhere. Their willingness to crash the boards and really amplify the strengths of Memphis in this area when compared to Sacamento should make for limiting Kings opportunities to score on put-backs while also garnering their own opportunities at easy buckets.
Getting out and running, or at the least playing with tempo/pace, is a priority of this coaching staff. Attacking the glass and getting the ball out fast helps in this pursuit.
The Memphis Grizzlies will be favored in this game. As they should be - they’re at home, they’re healthier (how fun is THAT to read!), and at this stage of the season it’s fair to say Memphis is better than Sacramento. And yet, the Grizzlies better not overlook a Kings teams that is feeling confident after beating up on the hapless Oklahoma City Thunder. Delon Wright, Terence Davis, the aforementioned Holmes, Buddy Hield’s potential to become red-hot from range...Sacramento has enough to keep this game close. And between opponent’s streaky scoring (doesn’t Memphis almost always seem to be on the bad end of that?) and their own cold runs offensively at times, we have all the makings of another frustrating showing in the eyes of most Grizzlies fans.
Expect Memphis to pull out the win, and earn a night off for key rotation players Friday. Just don’t expect it to come easy.
Memphis 119, Sacramento 115