WHEN: 7:00 PM CT
WHERE: FedExForum in Memphis, Tennessee
HOW TO WATCH/LISTEN: Bally Sports Southeast/NBA League Pass/92.9 FM ESPN Memphis
BETTING ODDS: Grizzlies -16 O/U 229 (Odds can be found on DraftKings)
MEMPHIS: Kyle Anderson (Day-to-Day, foot), Dillon Brooks (Out, ankle), Yves Pons (Out, thigh)
ORLANDO: Wendell Carter Jr. (Day-To-Day, illness), Markelle Fultz (Out, knee), Moritz Wagner (Out, ribs), Jonathan Isaac (Out, knee), Bol Bol (Out, foot)
PROBABLE STARTING LINEUPS:
MEMPHIS: Ja Morant, Desmond Bane, Ziaire Williams, Jaren Jackson Jr., Steven Adams
ORLANDO: Cole Anthony, Jalen Suggs, Franz Wagner, Wendell Carter Jr., Mo Bamba
Ja Morant has been on an absolute tear, averaging 45.3 points per game over his last three contests. So even a game against the lowly Magic, who hold the league’s second-worst record, is must-see television.
When these teams met a month ago, Memphis controlled the game and never trailed after going up 24-22 with 3:29 left in the first quarter. The Grizzlies won 135-115 and Morant led all scorers with 33 points.
In today’s NBA, the league is so deep that even the bottom of the league is filled with talent. The Magic have a slew of skilled players, both from drafts and by taking fliers on high picks on the wrong teams. Franz Wagner and Jalen Suggs are the most recent additions to a promising core that also features second-year player Cole Anthony. They acquired former No. 1 overall pick Markelle Fultz, and Wendell Carter Jr., also a top-ten pick, through trades and I’d be amiss to not mention former No. 5 pick Mo Bamba, who basically flipped off Memphis during the 2018 draft process.
The Magic and the Grizzlies are two of the three or so youngest teams in the NBA and while their records don’t reflect it, they are two very similar teams loaded with hoopers and promising futures.
With that being said, the expectation should be a dominant win for Memphis Saturday. Here are the keys to not dropping two straight.
Lock in on defense
No matter how many highlights Ja has the Grizzlies still seem to end up in close games. It is a testament to Taylor Jenkins and the rest of the squad that they win most of those close games, but the Grizzlies inability to get stops and keep the game out of arm’s reach is alarming.
If Memphis wants to make a deep playoff run they have to play defense at a high level consistently. The eventual return of Dillon Brooks could greatly help the Grizzlies defensively. Not only his defensive abilities but the attitude that he inspires will be needed come playoff time.
The last three contests are perfect examples of the Grizzlies late-game struggles. Against the Chicago Bulls and San Antonio Spurs, Memphis held double-digit leads in the fourth quarter but were unable to get stops down the stretch, allowing each team to close the gap. Against the Boston Celtics Thursday night, there were moments where it felt the Grizzlies could make a run and get back into the game but every time they gained momentum the Celtics found the open man for a three.
Brooks is the Grizzlies best perimeter defender but for 30 minutes Desmond Bane was able to shut down Demar DeRozan – who was the hottest man on the planet at the time. Jaren Jackson Jr. is a top three DPOTY candidate and Steven Adams has had his moments defensively but for some reason, the team has had trouble finishing games.
It is most evident when Jenkins pairs Ja with Tyus Jones and/or De’Anthony Melton – three undersized guards. Melton is fun to watch defensively but against bigger wings, his size becomes a problem. Saturday’s game against an Orlando team that is bottom three in scoring and also plays lineups featuring small guards is a perfect opportunity for the Grizzlies to lock in defensively.
I just want to hear Pete Pranica say “Hammer, Nail, Coffin, this baby is over” with a little more time left on the clock.
Desmond Bane finds his shot
Bane had a slump earlier in the year, but not like what he went through for the first 3.5 games after the All-Star game. Maybe it was the Three-point contest that shook him but for a week Bane did not look like the sharpshooter and “Fly-by King” we’ve seen for the last four months.
Against the Timberwolves, Bulls and Spurs, Bane was 12/44 (27%) from the field and a dreadful 4/20 (20%) from three. It looked like the trend was going to continue as he started 0-5. Bane was instrumental in the Grizzlies' comeback attempt in the fourth quarter and he finished 5-10 from three.
Especially with the return of Brooks looming, Bane finding his jumper is crucial because with another scorer on the floor he’ll be seeing more open threes. If Bane regained his shot on Thursday night then the Grizzlies won’t have to rely on Ja Morant setting career highs every night to win.
The Grizzlies are heavy favorites and there is no indication that they will lose a second straight Saturday. Since December, the Grizzlies only have four or five duds and with the national media focusing their full attention on Ja, expect him to show out in front of the home crowd.
Jaren had a strong game against Boston and I’d like to see him get some touches early. If he is aggressive and doesn’t settle for bad threes, the Grizzlies offense should hum. I would personally love to see Trip send Mo Bamba into the fourth row en route to a strong victory against Orlando.
Bonus Betting Breakdown: The line is tough but I think the Grizzlies cover. They beat the Orlando Magic by 20 in their first matchup and so the line is reasonably set high at -16. The over is 229 and based on my final prediction, I would take the under. Once again, I think Vegas nailed the line, but Orlando averages 104 points per game, and the Memphis Grizzlies aren’t going to lay an egg Saturday night. The Grizzlies will control the game and let up at the end, scoring only 122 when they likely could have scored in the 130s.
Final: Memphis 122, Orlando 101