WHEN: 2:30 PM CT
WHERE: FedExForum in Memphis, Tennessee
HOW TO WATCH/LISTEN: TNT/Bally Sports Southeast/92.9 FM ESPN Memphis
MEMPHIS: Dillon Brooks (Out, ankle), Yves Pons (Out, ankle/Health and Safety Protocols), Killian Tillie (Out, Health and Safety Protocols)
CHICAGO: Lonzo Ball (Out, knee), Alex Caruso (Out, reconditioning), Tyler Cook (Out, ankle), Javonte Green (Out, adductor), Derrick Jones (Out, knee), Zach LaVine (Out, knee), Patrick Williams (Out, wrist)
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUPS:
MEMPHIS: Ja Morant, Desmond Bane, Ziaire Williams, Brandon Clarke, Jaren Jackson Jr.
CHICAGO: Coby White, Ayo Dosunmu, DeMar DeRozan, Alfonzo McKinney, Nikola Vucevic
Every year, the game is secondary to “The Dream”.
As it should be.
The NBA’s national schedule on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day once again features the Memphis Grizzlies in a prime slot at home in FedExForum. The importance of Dr. King in Memphis, where he spent the final days of his tremendously significant life, cannot be understated. The Nation Civil Rights Museum, at the site of the former Lorraine Motel where Dr, King was murdered, does remarkable work in educating current generations about the work that had been done by Dr. King and his contemporaries, and the maintenance of the room where King stayed and stood when he was shot is a powerful reminder of how far we as a society still have to go to be one truly of the people, by the people, and for the people.
On this day of remembrance and service, the work continues.
The Memphis Grizzlies organization also does a terrific job honoring the legacy of Dr. King throughout the day. From the Earl Lloyd Sports Legacy Symposium where NBA greats Muggsy Bogues, Elvin Hayes, and Allan Houston will, as Grizzlies PR describes it, “share stories of their community work and experiences through their career in sports, in the spirit of Dr. King”, to a halftime performance dedicated to King’s legacy, to other events throughout the weekend looking to highlight youth and service, it truly is a first class representation of the city of Memphis and the Grizzlies franchise.
Of course, the main focus of fans is the basketball game on the floor of FedExForum. And while the Grizzlies had their win streak snapped against the Dallas Mavericks on Friday night, after two days off from play Memphis is positioned to start a new streak today against a significantly weakened Chicago Bulls team.
That doesn’t mean it will be easy, however. The Bulls nearly knocked off the Celtics in Boston Saturday night with this depleted roster. They have more than enough to compete with the Grizzlies, who will once again miss Dillon Brooks’ defensive presence against an elite scoring wing.
On to keys to the game.
Containing DeMar DeRozan
With Lonzo Ball and Zach LaVine both out, one half of Chicago’s version of the “Core Four” will be missing for this contest. But arguably the best Bulls player so far this season will be on the floor for Chicago, and it is a player that Grizzlies fans are somewhat familiar with. DeMar DeRozan, formerly of the San Antonio Spurs, is having possibly the best season of his NBA career. He not only leads the Bulls in points per game (25.7), he leads that “Core Four” of LaVine/Ball/Nikola Vucevic and himself in win shares per 48 minutes (.167), PER (22.8), and usage (30.8%). He also somewhat surprisingly leads Chicago in assist percentage (23.2% among players that have logged at least 100 minutes for the Bulls) while not turning over the ball very often (8.5% turnover percentage - all stats from basketball-reference.com).
So DeRozan not only continues to be a walking bucket, as he has been his entire career. For Chicago, he stirs the drink creating offense for others as well. He grew in this way during his time with the Spurs (his top three seasons in assist percentage were in San Antonio) but that production continues with the Bulls. He makes the offense go for Chicago Head Coach Billy Donovan, and while naturally that production would be easier with Ball and LaVine on the floor DeRozan remains a major threat.
Whether it is Ziaire Williams, Kyle Anderson, or a combination of them and other defenders, the location of DeRozan must be found at all times. The team must move their feet and not reach (DeRozan shot nine free throws in Boston Saturday night, making all nine) and force the ball to move on from his possession. In key moments the ball will be in his hands, and the Grizzlies cannot allow him to get clean rhythm looks at the bucket. If he does? It will be a long afternoon for Memphis.
Do not underestimate the backcourt
It would be easy to write off the Bulls backcourt considering both starters are out for Chicago. But that would be a mistake - Coby White and Ayo Dosunmu are both capable basketball players who bring different issues to the table for opposing teams. White has been in the NBA for a while as the 7th pick in the 2019 NBA Draft (he was a target for the Grizzlies if their draft pick had been in that area before the Ja Morant miracle) and while he has not been a star, he has been a serviceable NBA player. He is currently shooting 38.5% from beyond the arc and he made 5 threes against the Celtics on Saturday night on 10 attempts. He has range, and if left open can make Memphis pay.
On the other end, Ay Dosunmu has been a revelation as the potential steal of the 2021 NBA Draft. The 38th pick in the most recent draft is shooting 44.4% (on just 63 attempts, so small sample size) from three while also making an absurd 58.7% of his shots from inside the arc. He has appeared in 37 games for Chicago and has averaged over 20 minutes per game, so this production is not a fluke - he can hurt you off the dribble as a creator for himself as well as others. In the Saturday Celtics loss Dosunmu scored 21 points on 10 shots while also dishing out 10 assists.
Should Morant and Bane have success against these two? Yes. Will Ja and Desmond be walking back to the bench after a timeout to halt a Bulls run led by White and Dosunmu if the Grizzlies do not pay them attention defensively? Absolutely.
The Grizzlies are six-point favorites in this game per DraftKings, and truth be told that seems kind of low considering the context of the match-up. Yes, the Bulls were able to hang tough with the Celtics in their depleted state. But the Grizzlies have had two days off so they should be rested, and are looking to get the taste of a poor 2nd half against the Mavericks out of their collective mouths. Nikola Vucevic will likely see his impact negated by the size and athleticism of the Grizzlies front court and can get more defensive attention (no offense Alfonso McKinney), and while White and Dosunmu can compete well they’re no match for a full 48 minutes against Ja Morant and Desmond Bane the way they’ve played this season.
A full strength Bulls team could be a real problem for the Grizzlies, at home or away. This Chicago team will not be able to keep up with Memphis as they move on from one streak hoping to begin another.
Memphis 117, Chicago 109