WHEN: 7:30 PM CT
WHERE: AT&T Center in San Antonio, Texas
HOW TO WATCH/LISTEN: Bally Sports Southeast/92.9 FM ESPN Memphis
MEMPHIS: Desmond Bane (Questionable, Health and Safety Protocols), Brandon Clarke (Questionable, back), Kyle Anderson (Out, Health and Safety Protocols), Tyus Jones (Health and Safety Protocols), Dillon Brooks (Out, ankle)
SAN ANTONIO: Keita Bates-Diop (Out, Health and Safety Protocols), Devontae Cacok, Zach Collins, Josh Primo and Joe Wieskamp (Questionable - G-League Assignment)
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUPS:
MEMPHIS: Ja Morant, Desmond Bane, Ziaire Williams, Jaren Jackson Jr., Steven Adams
SAN ANTONIO: Dejounte Murray, Derrick White, Keldon Johnson, Doug McDermott, Jakob Poeltl
It has all the makings of a Memphis Grizzlies win.
An opponent with a losing record, on the second night of a back to back, meeting up with a rested Grizzlies team among the top-5 in the entire NBA that seems primed to add at least one, if not two, key rotation players. Memphis hasn’t played since Sunday’s loss to the Mavericks and with reinforcements on the way in the form of Desmond Bane and/or Brandon Clarke, the Grizzlies appear ready to get back to their winning ways.
Careful, though, dear reader. For the San Antonio Spurs still have Gregg Popovich as their head coach. And any time Pop is involved, his team has got a shot. Couple that with the fact that two of the most underrated players in the NBA this season (Dejounte Murray and Jakob Poeltl) have the size and skill to make things tough for Memphis on both ends of the floor, and if the Grizzlies don’t perform to their standard they will lose a game they are “supposed to win”.
Here’s how to avoid that unfortunate possibility.
Get Ja some help
The last time these two teams played, Ja Morant had himself a game. 30 points on 18 shots, 8 assists to no turnovers, 6 rebounds, 3-3 from beyond the arc - a truly MVP-level performance. That’s the good news. The bad news? Dejounte Murray was out for that contest, and Murray’s combination of lateral quickness and wingspan (6’10”) has given Morant issues in the past. It’s not an exact science - Murray and Morant shared the floor in last season’s opening game and Ja scored 44 points (in a Grizzlies loss). He has added to his bag of tricks offensively over the years and longer guards do not hurt his game as much as they once did. But Murray has also improved, and he has the tools to throw Ja off his spots and rhythm.
Morant can overcome this, of course. But he could use a little help from his friends to get him there. Bane’s potential return with his now-elite scoring at all three levels will be a big boost. Steven Adams is an excellent setter of screens and enjoys the physicality that comes with it. Jaren Jackson Jr. has an advantageous matchup potentially with Doug McDermott to take advantage of. There are multiple ways to get Ja assistance, either through getting him space to operate or by taking some of the deserved attention he will attract off of him.
Ja Morant is a special talent. Opposing teams know this, and Popovich will have his squad ready to try to slow him down. Good luck.
Play Poeltl to a draw
Pop quiz - among Spurs players that have played at least 200 minutes this season for the team, who boasts the best net rating, block percentage, and win shares per 48 minutes (all per basketball-reference.com)? It’s not the aforementioned Murray, or Derrick White - another highly regarded at times Spurs player. It is actually one of the most underrated bigs in the NBA this season, Jakob Poeltl. He is an effective defender, protecting the rim extremely well while also being able to move enough on the perimeter to hold his own in spurts against forwards and bigger guards. Offensively he is one of the best finishers at and around the rim that San Antonio has. He is a fitting partner with Murray, and an under the radar trade target as the deadline approaches for any team that wants a mobile, efficient big.
Steven Adams has to find a way to force him to move and not be allowed to sit back at the rim and play the middle of the paint for long stretches like Kristaps Porzingis did for Dallas on Sunday. Adding the likes of Bane and Clarke will possibly help given their movement and Bane’s range. But Adams holds the key - no, he doesn’t have to be an offensive focus in terms of scoring. But beyond his excellent screening and offensive rebounding he has to make sure that Poeltl has limited chances to attack the glass himself while also utilizing his size to make the angles to help defense difficult for Poeltl.
It’s possible, and is another task that does not have to be completed alone. But Adams will carry the brunt of that burden.
The Spurs blew out the Rockets last night and got a chance to rest some key players in the 4th quarter. That should negate some of the benefit Memphis had in terms of rest entering this contest. But outside of Murray and Poeltl, the Spurs are either young, inexperienced, not talented enough, or some combination of the three. They’re 18-30 for a reason. The Grizzlies should win this game by several possessions, if they handle business. But beware - Pop and company can keep this close the whole way if Memphis allows it.
Memphis 115, San Antonio 109