WHEN: 6:30 PM CT
WHERE: Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York
HOW TO WATCH/LISTEN: NBATV/Bally Sports Southeast/92.9 FM ESPN Memphis
MEMPHIS: Ziaire Williams (Doubtful, ankle), Kyle Anderson/Shaq Buchanan/Dillon Brooks/John Konchar/De’Anthony Melton/Xavier Tillman (Health and Safety Protocols), Tyrell Terry (Non-COVID illness)
BROOKLYN: Joe Harris (Out, ankle), Kyrie Irving (Out, Health and Safety Protocols), LaMarcus Aldridge (Questionable, foot)
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUPS:
MEMPHIS: Ja Morant, Desmond Bane, Jaren Jackson Jr. (?), Killian Tillie (??), Steven Adams
BROOKLYN: Patty Mills, James Harden, Bruce Brown, Kevin Durant, LaMarcus Aldridge
The Memphis Grizzlies have a lot of players out at the moment, almost exclusively due to the Health and Safety Protocols of the NBA with regard to COVID-19. But the world of the Association keeps spinning, and the skeleton Grizzlies are in Brooklyn tonight against one of the very best teams the NBA has to offer. Even in their current state, Memphis can view this opportunity as a “measuring stick” game - a chance to measure themselves against Kevin Durant, James Harden, and a legitimate title contender in the Nets.
Even with multiple rotation pieces missing the two most impactful players for the Grizzlies, Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr., are available (as of this writing). So is Desmond Bane, arguably the second best player on the roster at the moment. As is Steven Adams, who is enjoying a renaissance of his career of sorts in Memphis. Same with Tyus Jones and Brandon Clarke, both of whom should be in the Grizzlies rotation even when the entire roster is together.
No, Memphis is not at full strength by any means. But the Grizzlies have an opportunity in this game to see just how good they are. Brooklyn is without Kyrie Irving and Joe Harris, two projected starters, and yet is still one of the very best in the NBA. If Memphis wants to be seen more like the playoff team they are rather than the play-in team they have been the last two seasons, this contest on national television is a wonderful opportunity.
Keys to the game.
Control Patty Mills
One of the main reasons the Brooklyn Nets are having as good of a season as they are, despite dealing with a COVID outbreak of their own and missing Kyrie Irving the entire season, is the brilliance of Patty Mills. Mills is one of the NBA’s most elite three point shooters, converting 43.6% of his attempts from beyond the arc on 7.8 shots per game. He shoots more threes than anyone else on the Nets, and he makes them at a very high clip - the best of his career to this point.
He is also playing better defense for Brooklyn than he has in years, and he is protecting possessions (9% turnover percentage is tied for third best of his career, per basketball-reference.com) despite playing more minutes per game (30.6) than he has at any point of his career. James Harden and Kevin Durant (rightly) get the headlines. But Patty Mills has been the unsung hero of this Nets run. And if you don’t remember Mills as a member of the San Antonio Spurs, he’s been a bit of a Grizzlies killer in the past.
For Memphis to win this game, that cannot happen tonight.
Be smart with rotations
The Grizzlies are not in as good of a spot in terms of their current depth as Brooklyn is. We’re staring down the barrel of a Tyus Jones/Jarrett Culver/Killian Tillie/Brandon Clarke/Xavier Tillman Sr. bench unit, for crying out loud. Memphis is hurting for numbers, but thankfully that does not need to doom them. It is just a reality that they must be willing to combat. If a player struggles (looking at you, Jarrett Culver-in-a-hopeful-reverse-jinx), Head Coach Taylor Jenkins cannot be afraid to shrink the rotation. Lineups that perhaps will not seem as cohesive/even logical (Ja Morant and Tyus getting extended run, three big lineups like the hypothetical starting lineup) have to be attempted and tolerated. Jones is one of the better players for the Grizzlies. He must get extended run, with Ja as well as without him.
The Brooklyn bench is stout. Cam Thomas, De’Andre Bembry, Memphis legend James Johnson, Blake Griffin, Nic Claxton...there is potential for the Grizzlies to get run off the floor if Jenkins tries to go bench for bench with the Nets. It seems unlikely, though, that this is the case. One of Morant/Jackson Jr. should be on the floor at all times - and Bane should see extended time as well with Kyle Anderson being newly added to the Health and Safety Protocols list.
Yes, there is a second game tomorrow night. But the reality is that “rest” is not an option right now. Maximizing the minutes with the starters intermingling with the reserves must be the priority.
As of this writing the Nets are seven point favorites in this game. That seems fair - Brooklyn is less injury/illness riddled than the Grizzlies are, and Durant/Harden will be the two best players on the floor. Usually the team with the two best players wins. But Ja Morant is not as far behind Harden and Durant as some may think in terms of production. And he/Jaren Jackson Jr. have the talent/athleticism to provide mismatches throughout the game. If both Morant and Jackson Jr. play at a high level, plus timely contributions from Desmond Bane offensively, the Grizzlies can keep it close.
Memphis just likely does not have the fire power to keep up with the Nets for a full 48 minutes. And that will make the difference.
Brooklyn 112, Memphis 104