WHO: Memphis Grizzlies (19-10, 6-8 away) @ Denver Nuggets (18-11, 9-3 home)
WHEN: 9:00 PM CT
WHERE: Ball Arena — Denver, Colorado
HOW TO WATCH/LISTEN: TNT/Bally Sports Southeast/92.9 FM ESPN Memphis
MEMPHIS: Desmond Bane (Out, toe), Danny Green (Out, knee), Kenneth Lofton Jr. (Out, G League Two-Way Transfer)
DENVER: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (Questionable, left lower leg contusion), Collin Gillespie (Out, right leg fracture), Jeff Green (Questionable, low back pain), Nikola Jokic (Questionable, right knee contusion), Jamal Murray (Questionable, left knee injury management), Michael Porter Jr. (Out, left heel strain), Peyton Watson (Out, G League On Assignment), Jack White (Out, G League two-way transfer)
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUPS:
MEMPHIS: Ja Morant, John Konchar, Dillon Brooks, Jaren Jackson Jr., Steven Adams
DENVER: Jamal Murray, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Bruce Brown, Aaron Gordon, Nikola Jokic
The Memphis Grizzlies didn’t start their 4-game road trip out on the right foot, losing to the short-handed Oklahoma City Thunder and snapping their 7-game winning streak. Now, the hard part begins. Over the next 3 games, they will be facing the Denver Nuggets, Phoenix Suns, and Golden State Warriors — 3 squads destined to battle with the Grizzlies to represent the Western Conference in the NBA Finals.
The Denver Nuggets are a game within Memphis for the 1st seed in the Western Conference, sporting an 18-11 record. Once again, Nikola Jokic is leading the charge and putting up gaudy numbers for them — averaging 25.2 points on 69.2 True Shooting Percentage, 10.9 rebounds, 9 assists, and 2.2 stocks.
With Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. back in the mix, and offseason acquisitions Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Bruce Brown, the Nuggets’ depth is way more bolstered than the roster trotted out last season. This combination alongside Jokic gives Denver hope — and perhaps more than a puncher’s chance — of making the NBA Finals.
Can the Memphis Grizzlies rekindle their winning ways in the Mile High City?
Keeping Jamal Murray in Check
Jamal Murray is still getting back into the swing of things after missing all of last season with an ACL injury. He’s averaging 17.3 points per game on 43.7% shooting from the field and 33.8% from 3. These marks dipped from his numbers his prior 3 seasons, showing there’s still accumulation to be made after his injury.
Nonetheless, he remains one of the league’s premier “heat check” players — capable of burning tough jumpers regardless of the dribble combinations, the tightness of the contests, the distance, or the balance on his shot. The bubble was his shining example of it, putting together an offensive masterpiece of the ages.
His offense is a bit more inconsistent, but when he’s on, the Nuggets are tough to beat — as they are 7-4 when Murray scores 20 or more points.
Who’s going to be tasked with slowing him down?
None other than Dillon Brooks.
The Grizzlies’ premier stopper will need to make sure they aren’t on the receiving end of a Murray flurry this evening. While he’s capable of drilling off-the-dribble 3’s, Murray’s point of attack is from the mid-range. Per Cleaning the Glass, he’s been in the 94th percentile or higher in “long mid-range” jumper frequency in each of his past 3 seasons, as 22% come in this zone — 43% are throughout the mid-range. Brooks will need to utilize his size and physicality advantages on Murray to make him uncomfortable getting to his spots, especially inside the arc. They will try to use the 2-man game out of the high post with Jokic to free up Murray, and Brooks’ screen navigation has to stay sharp to avoid clean looks.
If Dillon Brooks plays to the level he’s shown as a stopper this season, he’ll slow down Murray and give the Grizzlies an optimal chance to win tonight.
Make the defense work
The Denver Nuggets defense hasn’t been good. They’re 27th on that end of the floor, and luckily their offense has carried them this high in the Western Conference near the holidays — identifying as the only team with a bottom 10 defense and a net rating greater than 1.0.
This provides a good bounce-back opportunity to return to their standard of Grizzlies basketball, after a poor offensive effort on Saturday night.
The Nuggets aren’t a good halfcourt defense team, ranking 28th in points per 100 transition possessions (116.3, per Cleaning the Glass). Excluding put-backs, the Nuggets are 1 of 3 teams that give up 100+ points per 100 halfcourt plays. The Grizzlies need to leverage the downhill manipulation of Ja Morant and Tyus Jones. As they’re weaving their way towards the basket, they need to see how they can warp the defense and generate scoring opportunities within a shifted defense.
The Nuggets aren’t a good transition defense team either, ranking 28th in points per 100 transition possessions (116.3, per Cleaning the Glass). Their powerful offense may not leave them the desired amount of open-floor opportunities, but the Grizzlies should take advantage of ended possessions to get out and run.
If the Grizzlies can have the Nuggets’ lackluster defense outweigh their strong offense, it should bode well for their chances of winning.
If the injury report isn’t nearly as ravaged as it appears for Denver, this matchup with the Memphis Grizzlies and Denver Nuggets could serve as a fun matchup that boosts one’s contenders status.
The Grizzlies didn’t put together a strong showing Saturday night, and they’ve usually showed discipline and resilience bouncing back from those circumstances.
The Grizzlies could become the 1st team in the Western Conference to reach 20 wins night, and I’m leaning towards it.
Prediction: Grizzlies - 122, Nuggets - 117.