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Memphis Grizzlies vs. Milwaukee Bucks Game Preview

The Grizzlies take on Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks as they look to win their seventh straight.

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Milwaukee Bucks v Memphis Grizzlies Photo by Justin Ford/Getty Images

WHO: Memphis Grizzlies (18-9, 12-2 home) vs. Milwaukee Bucks (20-7, 7-4 away)

WHEN: 7:00 PM CT

WHERE: FedExForum in Memphis, TN

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

INJURY REPORT:

MEMPHIS: Desmond Bane (Out, toe), Danny Green (Out, knee), Vince Williams Jr. (Questionable, hip)

MILWAUKEE: MarJon Beauchamp (Probable, nose), Jrue Holiday (Out, Non-COVID illness), Joe Ingles (Out, knee), AJ Green (Out, two-way transfer), Sandro Mamukelashvili (Out, two-way transfer)

PROJECTED STARTING LINEUPS:

MEMPHIS: Ja Morant, John Konchar, Dillon Brooks, Jaren Jackson Jr., Steven Adams

MILWAUKEE: Jevon Carter, Grayson Allen, Khris Middleton, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Brook Lopez

Winners of six straight, the Memphis Grizzlies welcome the Milwaukee Bucks to the Grindhouse. Tonight marks the final game of Memphis’s five-game homestand, as the Grizzlies will then travel west for a four-game road trip culminating with their Christmas day matchup with the Golden State Warriors.

The Bucks sit at 20-7, the second-best record in the NBA. Like the Grizzlies, Milwaukee found early-season success despite being down multiple starters. Unlike Memphis, the Bucks now have those players back. Khris Middleton made his season debut two weeks ago after missing the first month and a half of the season.

Milwaukee will be the toughest opponent the Grizzlies have faced since beginning their win streak. In his last 12 games, Giannis Antetokounmpo is averaging 32.2 points on 54.8 FG%, 10.9 rebounds and 5.3 assists. Memphis will need to fight star power with star power. Morant, who sat out Monday’s game against Atlanta, is averaging 27.1 points, 8.4 assists and 7.3 rebounds in his last 12 games. While his shooting percentages are down from earlier in the season, he has been a leader on both ends of the court and has shown growth in other areas. For Memphis to continue its winning streak, Morant will need to play like the superstar, he has proven to be over the last two seasons.

What are some other keys to tonight’s matchup?

Milwaukee Bucks v Memphis Grizzlies Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

Win defensive matchups

The Grizzlies have two legitimate defensive player of the year candidates. Dillon Brooks has been exceptional, taking the toughest defensive assignment on a nightly basis, often limiting opposing threats to minimal success. He was recently recognized as a top-three candidate in the race for the award. Tonight, he will likely be matched up with Middleton. The ten-year veteran underwent wrist surgery over the offseason and has only played six games this season. Middleton is yet to look like his old self; he is averaging 12.5 points on 36.9/30.3 shooting splits, along with 4.3 assists and 2.7 rebounds. Middleton’s best game this year came against the Warriors on Tuesday. He scored 20 points on 6/13 shooting and 3/7 from three. If Middleton is beginning to find his groove, Brooks’s perimeter defense will be crucial to stopping Milwaukee.

He has not played enough games to be considered for the award yet, but Jaren Jackson Jr. is having a special season. “Block Panther” already has four games with 5+ blocks, including Monday’s contest when he tied the Grizzlies’ franchise record in blocks in a game with eight. He is averaging 3.6 blocks and a steal per game. He received First Team All-Defense honors last season but this year JJJ is going for the newly named Hakeem Olajuwon Defensive Player of the Year award. Jackson will face his toughest test this season, likely tasked with guarding Antetokounmpo for much of the game. Trip has done a much better job staying out of foul trouble this season but he will be tested against the Greek Freak. Antetokounmpo averages 12 free throws a game, the most in the NBA. Jackson, a unicorn in his own right, will be challenged offensively and defensively against Antetokounmpo and Brook Lopez. If he is able to hold his own, the Grizzlies could extend their win streak to seven.

Play team offense

While the game is marketed as a showdown between two top-ten NBA players, for Memphis to come away victorious, the Grizzlies will need offensive contributions from everyone. The Bucks have the best defensive rating in the association and are top-ten in opponents' fast-break points and opponents' second-chance points. With Lopez and Antetokounmpo manning the middle, Milwaukee is nearly impossible to score against. The Bucks hold teams to the third-fewest points in the paint, an area Morant and the Grizzlies thrive.

If Memphis wants to stay atop the Western Conference, it will need to find alternative scoring routes. Morant driving into the paint, hoping to draw fouls and make tough finishes will not be enough. On Monday against Atlanta, the Grizzlies had a season-high 36 assists. Memphis is undefeated when they have 30+ assists. The key to tonight’s game is ball movement and getting everyone involved. It is never great when the Grizzlies fall in love with the three-ball but using Morant as a decoy to create open threes may be Memphis’s best offensive option tonight. Obviously, it would help if the Grizzlies had Desmond Bane, one of the league’s best three-point shooters but if Tyus Jones, John Konchar and Brooks are able to get shots to fall, Memphis could take sole control of first place in the West.

Memphis Grizzlies v Milwaukee Bucks Photo by John Fisher/Getty Images

The Prediction

Milwaukee is disciplined and creates a lot of tough matchup problems for nearly every team in the NBA but Memphis is not one of them. While their defense may present problems for the Grizzlies, Jackson and Brooks are two of the best defenders in the league to guard the Bucks’ all-star duo. As long as Jackson does not get into foul trouble and the Grizzlies do not rely solely on Morant to generate points, Memphis’s win streak will grow to seven.

Memphis 106, Milwaukee 102

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