WHEN: 8:00 PM CT
WHERE: FedExForum in Memphis, Tennessee
HOW TO WATCH/LISTEN: Bally Sports Southeast/NBA League Pass/92.9 FM ESPN Memphis
MEMPHIS: Grayson Allen (Questionable, hand)
NEW YORK: Alec Burks (Questionable, Health and Safety Protocols), Mitchell Robinson (Out, foot)
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUPS:
MEMPHIS: Ja Morant, Desmond Bane, Dillon Brooks, Kyle Anderson, Jonas Valanciunas
NEW YORK: Elfrid Payton, RJ Barrett, Reggie Bullock, Julius Randle, Nerlens Noel
The Memphis Grizzlies looked like a tired team when Cole Anthony’s unlikely game winning three fell through the net Saturday night for the Magic in Orlando. It was easily the most frustrated Head Coach Taylor Jenkins has been in postgame media availabilities in some time, if not ever. Dillon Brooks spoke after the Magic loss of the need for more consistent effort from players, especially in the third quarter of games. Xavier Tillman said that the message in the locker room was that defeats like that - ones that, while explainable, are unacceptable in the middle of a playoff push - cannot happen any more.
The New York Knicks, of course, do not care about the current plight of the Memphis Grizzlies. Their trajectory is one that is on the up and up, a squad that quite literally has been one of the best the last three or so weeks of this unique NBA season. Since April 9th - the last time these two teams faced off - the Knicks are 11-1 and have only lost to one of the best teams overall this year, the Phoenix Suns. They are led by the clear frontrunner for the Most Improved Player award in Julius Randle, a much-improved RJ Barrett in his sophomore season, and a collection of veterans that have helped new Knicks Head Coach Tom Thibodeau instill both culture and scheme in a short amount of time. New York is one of the NBA’s most remarkable turnaround stories. And they’re still in the midst of the hottest part of that turnaround.
So, how can Memphis cool them off? Some keys to tonight’s game.
Run them off the floor
This isn’t meant in a “bulletin board material” sort of way. New York is the better team so far this season, and especially right now. The Knicks have found their groove, while the Grizzlies are out of sorts for all sorts of reasons. This is in regard to two truths -
- The Knicks had a game last night, a victory over Houston against the Rockets.
- Tom Thibodeau LOVES to run his key players on a high amount of minutes.
With four minutes remaining in the third quarter in Houston, RJ Barrett had already played 30 minutes. Do the math. He had played almost every second of that basketball game, without any breaks. Julius Randle had played 27 minutes , meaning he got a few minutes off but had still been in a vast majority of the time. Randle only wound up playing 30 total minutes, while Barrett logged 40.
The Knicks blew out the Rockets, so it isn’t as if the game was overly exerting as New York put away a team without the resources to win right now. But still, the Grizzlies were off last night and the Knicks were busying being coached by Thibs. This means they were in fact winning...but it also means that a lot of minutes (unnecessarily) were put on some of their best players.
Memphis is at its best in transition anyway. But tonight that must be a massive priority for a Grizzlies team desperate to wash away some of the stench of the Orlando collapse. Energy cannot be questioned if you truly see yourself as a playoff threat, especially against a Thibs-coached team on the second night of a back to back. Unless they’re the best conditioned team in the NBA (which they may be - they’re 7-4 in SEGABABA’s this season) there will be some openings for runs, and running, for Memphis.
They must take advantage.
Winning the bench battle
Along those “Thibs plays dudes a lot of minutes” lines, in last night’s nine-man rotation both Derrick Rose and Taj Gibson played starter minutes - roughly 30 minutes for both. These two have played invaluable roles for Thibodeau not just this season, but in the past. They’re key veterans both on the floor and in the locker room for the Knicks, and Gibson (+36) and Rose (+35) were monstrously important in blowing out Houston Sunday night.
The last time these two teams squared off, they weren’t both as impactful (Rose thrived, but Gibson struggled). But other bench players were. Immanuel Quickley (20 points with 4 made threes) and Alec Burks (19 points with 3 made threes) paced the reserves that night as they outscored the Grizzlies bench 74-35.
Safe to say, that cannot happen again if Memphis wants to win. Remember, this game went to overtime, meaning the Grizzlies starters must have drastically outplayed the Knicks starters. In ways they did - all five Memphis starters scored in double digits, with three of them scoring 20 or more (Morant, Brooks, Valanciunas). Meanwhile, Julius Randle only scored 15 and Barrett posted 20. But only Desmond Bane (16) scored in double digits for Memphis off the bench, while Rose/Burks/Quickley did so for the Knicks.
The bench unit must better hold their ground against New York. More is needed from literally everyone - from Brandon Clarke, to Justise Winslow, to Tyus Jones, to Xavier Tillman Sr., to Jaren Jackson Jr. (assuming he still isn’t a starter - which he may be). They have to be sound defensively in their minutes while also being aggressive scoring and getting out to push pace. If Burks plays, he is a clear scoring threat. But the four man group from last night of Gibson/Rose/Quickley/Obi Toppin is more than capable of hurting the Grizzlies without him.
As previously stated, the Knicks are a better basketball team than the Grizzlies, especially right now. But while New York should be favored in this game, especially considering how below average Memphis has been at home, this game is a natural “take a stand” one for the Grizzlies. They were clearly bothered by how the Orlando game ended - rightfully so. Here’s a chance to right that wrong, to knock off a Knicks group that is playing better basketball than them right now and get their good mojo back.
Ja, Jonas, and Dillon played very well the last time these teams played. Whether Jaren starts or comes off the bench, his presence will help reinforce the reserves regardless of who goes to that unit with Jackson Jr. back. New York winning this game would not be surprising in the least...but combining the nature of the game last night for the Knicks even in a blowout with the Jaren factor making Memphis’ depth better (at least in theory), I see a bounce back opportunity for the Grizzlies coming to a much needed fruition.
Memphis 117, New York 113