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Memphis Grizzlies vs. Utah Jazz Game Preview

Grizzlies past meets Grizzlies present and future

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NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Utah Jazz Rob Gray-USA TODAY Sports

WHO: Memphis Grizzlies (33-17, 17-9 home) vs. Utah Jazz (30-19, 15-9 away)

WHEN: 7:00 PM CT

WHERE: FedExForum in Memphis, Tennessee

HOW TO WATCH/LISTEN: Bally Sports Southeast/92.9 FM ESPN Memphis

INJURY REPORT:

MEMPHIS: Tyus Jones and Kyle Anderson (Out, Health and Safety Protocols), Dillon Brooks (Out, ankle)

UTAH: Donovan Mitchell (Questionable, concussion), Trent Forrest (Questionable, ankle), Rudy Gobert (Out, calf)

PROJECTED STARTING LINEUPS:

MEMPHIS: Ja Morant, Desmond Bane, Ziaire Williams, Jaren Jackson Jr., Steven Adams

UTAH: Mike Conley, Bojan Bogdanovic, Joe Ingles, Royce O’Neale, Hassan Whiteside


It’s fitting, when you think about it.

After a momentous evening for Ja Morant and the Memphis Grizzlies in which “Big 12” was named to his first ever All-Star Game - and as a starter! - the first game Ja and his teammates have is the remaining active member of the last great era for the Memphis Grizzlies. Mike Conley and the Utah Jazz arrive in Memphis reeling just a bit - the Jazz are in the midst of a three game losing skid, and have lost nine of their last eleven outings. It is this drastic cooling off that Utah is now the four seed in the Western Conference, with Memphis surpassing them and leading Utah by 2.5 games entering tonight’s contest.

There are reasons for this, though. At one point the Jazz were without arguably their top-6 players. Utah will potentially be without both Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell in this game, and even if Mitchell returns it will be his first game back from a concussion. When you’re not at full strength, things can be difficult. Even Memphis struggled without Dillon Brooks for a time earlier in the season, and while those days are seemingly far behind the Grizzlies it was just two or so months ago that some wanted to trade Jaren Jackson Jr. and fire Taylor Jenkins.

How things can change so quickly with just a little patience.

Memphis is missing more rotation players for this game, but the Grizzlies will have their full compliment of stars while Utah will not...and perhaps will be without their two biggest ones. Meaning Mike Conley could be the best player for the Jazz in this one...and Grizzlies fans remember what that looks like.

Still, Utah has talent and veteran depth. This will not be an easy contest, Mitchell or no Mitchell.

Here are some keys to the game.

Take advantage of the extra pass

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at San Antonio Spurs Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports

The Memphis Grizzlies are currently ninth in the NBA in total assists, averaging 25 a game. When they complete 25 or more assists, so above their average, they are 20-7 overall. That is evidence of successful team ball movement and finishing of passes with efficient and/or open shot attempts leading to winning basketball. The Utah Jazz, meanwhile, defensively struggle with disrupting passing lanes enough to create turnovers. Utah is below average in the NBA - 18th - at generating extra possessions in this way, and it is not an area where they thrive on a nightly basis. Especially with Gobert out, their rim protection and overall defensive scheme will be less effective than usual (although Hassan Whiteside is no slouch defending the paint). This lack of forcing mistakes from the Grizzlies, if it holds to season norms, could hurt the Jazz if Memphis commits to that extra pass to a great shot mentality.

They have 27 times this season, with pretty solid results. If that energy can be maintained, it may be a long night for Utah.

A battle of strengths (sort of)

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Dallas Mavericks Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Thanks in large part to the efforts of Steven Adams, the Memphis Grizzlies are the best offensive rebounding team in the NBA. The extra possessions this generates is extremely important for a team that struggles at times scoring in the half court. If Memphis wants to be better prepared for the playoffs they have to get better at putting the ball in the bucket when the game slows down. But with Adams on the floor, multiple tries to put points on the board in those situations negates that issue somewhat - at least for now.

While their main reason for this being true is out, the Utah Jazz are one of the very best defensive rebounding teams in the NBA. Rudy Gobert snags a staggering 15 boards a game, but even beyond his efforts Utah can crash the glass. Hassan Whiteside rebounds at almost as strong a clip as Gobert per 100 possessions (22.7 for Gobert, 19.9 for Whiteside) and players like old friend Rudy Gay, Royce O’Neale, and Eric Paschall are also solid on the boards in their minutes. Rudy Gobert will of course be missed - but it isn’t as if the Grizzlies will be able to easily bully the Jazz without him there.

If made a priority, extra opportunities with the ball after missed shots will be there for Memphis. They just have to focus in that area and exploit the current vulnerability of the Jazz.

The Prediction

Memphis is currently a three point favorite in this game according to the oddsmakers, and that seems a bit low if both Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert were to miss the game. Perhaps the “wiseguys” in Las Vegas know something we don’t and Mitchell is more likely to return for this game that his “questionable” label suggests. At any rate, the Jazz are an experienced squad and know how important this game is for not just tiebreakers in the conference, but for confidence going forward. Between that knowledge and Mike Conley’s certain desire to try to show out against his old team? This will be a tight one.

And yet, the energy from Ja Morant - sure to want to show out a night after being named to his first All-Star Game - and company should carry the day. A healthy Gobert and Mitchell likely swings this for the Jazz. But Memphis has their stars at full speed, and Utah does not. So...

Memphis 113 Utah 109

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