WHEN: 9:00 PM CT
WHERE: FedExForum in Memphis, Tennessee
HOW TO WATCH/LISTEN: ESPN or Bally Sports Southeast/92.9 FM ESPN Memphis
MEMPHIS: Steven Adams (Questionable, Conditioning from Health-and-Safety Protocols), Yves Pons (Questionable, ankle), Dillon Brooks (Out, ankle)
DALLAS: Kristaps Porzingis (Out, Health and Safety Protocols), Willie Cauley-Stein (Out, personal)
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUPS:
MEMPHIS: Ja Morant, Desmond Bane, Ziaire Williams, Jaren Jackson Jr., Steven Adams
DALLAS: Jalen Brunson, Luka Doncic, Dorian Finney-Smith, Maxi Kleber, Dwight Powell
The Memphis Grizzlies are on fire. They have now won 11 games in a row (a franchise record), and they’ve rattled off a sizzling 21 wins in their past 25 games. It’s quite riveting in how they’re doing it, because it’s in a multitude of ways against a bunch of really good teams, and they’re having a whirlwind of fun doing it.
Through this impeccable run, not only have the Memphis Grizzlies separated themselves from the “play-in” or “let’s dodge the play-in” packs. They are one of the contenders of the conference right now, as they’re now currently sitting a full game ahead of the Utah Jazz for 3rd place in the West.
It’s quite remarkable.
Meanwhile, the reason why the division isn’t a double-digit runaway in January is because of the recently-superb play of the Dallas Mavericks. In “hey, we’re over here” fashion, the Mavericks — before a brutal beatdown from the Bing Bong New York Knicks — had won 6 games in a row, which included emphatic wins over the Golden State Warriors and Chicago Bulls. Sitting 6.5 games back from 1st place in the Southwest division, the Dallas Mavericks have the 7th-best defense (107.3 Defensive Rating), and they have an All-Star duo of Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis (although Porzingis will be out for this game).
Anyways, let’s dive into a couple keys.
Who guards Luka?
Dillon Brooks is out for the time being. That’s a massive blow when it comes to slowing down Luka Doncic. Last season, Brooks held Doncic to a stifling 7-21 (33.3%) shooting — using his physicality and attention to detail to bother him.
So it’s the next man up here. Who’s going to guard him? They have several routes they could go.
Desmond Bane would be a cool option. He has the physicality to bother Doncic in a similar manner, while also having the strength to matchup with him physically. The only potential drawback would be expending too much of his energy for offense.
If Kyle Anderson is starting, he’s a good option as well. If Steven Adams is out, he may get some reps on Doncic. However, given the Mavericks’ size in the frontcourt, it’s more likely that he stays on Maxi Kleber. Nonetheless, expect Anderson to get some reps on him.
John Konchar will also be one to get some time on him for sure. So we’ll see if Luka Doncic is ready to face the jitty.
The most likely, and to be real more intriguing, option is Ziaire Williams. The rookie got the last All-NBA assignment with Steph Curry the other night, and I outlined how he did on this very blog. The Luka Doncic assignment would bring on new challenges and questions. Both Williams and Doncic have had their sizes discussed, on both near-extremes. It’s going to be interesting to see how Williams deals with Luka’s size and physicality given his frame, as it could also indicate how far along the rookie is defending players that physically profile more as big 3’s or 4’s. Of all the options, expect Williams to take on this assignment.
The gameplan with Luka resembles the one with Steph: force him into tough shots and take the ball out of his hands. Luka is one of the most dynamic offensive players in the game, and he’s capable of creating magic at any moment. The Grizzlies are going to need to slow him down and make him uncomfortable for them to gain an edge over the Mavericks. Slowing down Luka is a big part of that.
And it wouldn’t be surprising to see Ziaire Williams take the honors.
Big Men Energy
It’s truly a bummer we are robbed of the unicorn matchup between Jaren Jackson Jr. and Kristaps Porzingis. Nonetheless, Jackson has been marvelous the past few games, and there aren’t many reasons to suspect it to slow down tonight.
One of the pivotal deciding factors of the game could be who wins the battle between the complementary big men.
In Dallas’ case, I’m talking about Dwight Powell, Maxi Kleber, and Marquese Chriss. Powell and Chriss profile as more of those “lob threat” energy bigs that are going to hustle, play good defense, and finish players. Kleber does those things as well, but with a little more outside shooting.
For the Grizzlies, getting Adams back from his return to play from health and safety protocols would provide an advantage in this matchup, as Dallas lacks anyone that matches his physicality and brute strength on the glass — well, aside from Boban Marjanovic. Brandon Clarke is playing some of the best basketball of his career the past several games, killing opponents with his energy on the glass, his defensive activity, and his play-finishing. Then they have Xavier Tillman, who’s in the rotation if Adams is out, and he provides solid defensive playmaking.
The Grizzlies secondary big men are going to need to maintain their level of play tonight and not let their counterparts get the edge. Dallas winning this matchup could spell trouble for them.
The vibes are immaculate right now, though I’m not sure a 9 PM local tip-off passes the vibe check.
On the other hand, national TV games are cool, especially when the team is rocking right now.
Expect a fun game, appreciate the generational talents of Ja Morant and Luka Doncic battling each other, and soak in the good energy from this Grizzlies team right now. The Mavericks do pose a fascinating challenge, with the offensive attack of Luka, Tim Hardaway Jr., and Jalen Brunson. It’s going to be interesting to see how the Grizzlies respond to a back-to-back and a late local tip-off.
But I’m not going to be the game that predicts an end to the losing streak. No way.
Final score prediction: Grizzlies 106 — Mavericks 100