WHEN: 6:30 PM CT
WHERE: FedExForum in Memphis, Tennessee
HOW TO WATCH/LISTEN: TNT/92.9 FM ESPN Memphis
BETTING INFORMATION (per DraftKings) - Memphis (-5.5), O/U 231.5
MEMPHIS: Dillon Brooks (Out, ankle)
NEW ORLEANS: Kira Lewis Jr. (Out, knee), Larry Nance Jr. (Out, knee) and Zion Williamson (Out, foot)
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUPS:
MEMPHIS: Ja Morant, Desmond Bane, Ziaire Williams, Jaren Jackson Jr., Steven Adams
NEW ORLEANS: CJ McCollum, Herbert Jones, Brandon Ingram, Jaxson Hayes, Jonas Valanciunas
Hopefully the Memphis Grizzlies are good at learning lessons.
Thankfully, there are lots of reasons to believe that the team will be approaching this next opportunity to play on the national stage a bit differently.
For one, the team will be at home instead of on the road like they were against the Boston Celtics this past Thursday. This should lend itself to better energy and preparation to play in front of the hometown crowd after a day at home and a night in their own bed - these Grizzlies are, of course, humans after all. Another reason for their likely better performance is the reality that they face as they race with the Golden State Warriors to catch the #2 seed in the Western Conference. For a team like Memphis, the difference between a potential showdown with the Denver Nuggets and Minnesota Timberwolves should be substantial...not to mention the possibility of facing the Warriors with home court advantage in the 2nd round (should Memphis get that far).
Perhaps most importantly, the Grizzlies have played some stinkers of late - especially defensively. The last time Memphis was on national TV, they laid an egg (as previously mentioned) against the Boston Celtics. The last time the Grizzlies took the floor, they were embarrassed and outplayed by the hungry Houston Rockets. Sneakily, Memphis is a below average 3-4 in their last 7 contests since they saw these New Orleans Pelicans at Smoothie King Center last month. That was a 121-109 win for the Grizzlies, but again, Memphis has struggled since that night. Meanwhile, New Orleans is 4-2 during that same stretch, having beaten the likes of Phoenix, the L.A. Lakers, and Utah before losing to the Denver Nuggets in overtime most recently.
In the last few weeks, it is the Pelicans that look to be on the upward swing, with the Grizzlies slightly skidding.
Can Memphis right the ship? Of course. But it won’t be easy.
Keys to the game.
Avoid the Herb Jones Penitentiary
There are few players in the NBA as versatile defensively as Herbert Jones. His defensive rating of 111 may not jump off the page, but his block (1.5%, 90th percentile per Cleaning the Glass) and steal (2.3%, 93rd percentile) percentages would almost certainly make Grizzlies head coach Taylor Jenkins blush. He doesn’t command offensive attention the same way that the current “big three” of the Pelicans that is CJ McCollum, Jonas Valanciunas, and Brandon Ingram rightfully does. But he is capable of defending all five positions on the floor for New Orleans depending on matchups, and his play for NOLA translates to winning basketball - the Pelicans are 10.6 points better when Jones is on the floor, good for the 93rd percentile in the entire NBA.
He is one of those “16 game players” you hear Draymond Green talk about - a guy that can help you win a championship without necessarily being a star scorer. He’s opportunistic on the offensive end, and capable of creating chaos on the defensive end. If the Grizzlies hope to win this game, they have to find ways to make Jones work defensively and not allow for him to make his presence felt consistently. Multiple screens to fight through and protection possessions should help.
Find the Unicorn
Perhaps you’ve heard that Jaren Jackson Jr. is struggling of late. If not, well...it isn’t pretty. In Jaren’s last 10 games, he is shooting 35.7% from the field and 26.1% from beyond the arc. JJJ’s issues leaked in to his much improved defense on Sunday night against the Rockets, where he struggled with Houston’s aggression at the rim and got in to foul trouble...and perhaps trouble with Head Coach Taylor Jenkins in terms of not playing within the Grizzlies schemes/rhythm of the game. Frustration mounting is more than natural when not performing up to your own level of play - Jaren of course expects a lot from himself, as he should. But when it forces you out of the standard that has been set, it can amplify the issues.
Getting Jaren going isn’t just important for tonight. It matters if the Grizzlies want to win a playoff series in six weeks or so. Without Jackson Jr. being the best two-way player on this team, as he has the capacity to be, Memphis will not be in the postseason long. He’s that important to what the team does on both ends of the floor. Look for the Grizzlies to get Jaren downhill to the rim off the dribble, testing the ability of Jaxson Hayes to defend on the perimeter, and then letting JJJ get looks from 3 both in transition as well as part of half court sets.
Jackson Jr. is needed for the Grizzlies to be the best version of themselves. Prioritizing his looks and getting him going will make Memphis not just a favorite in this game, but in most of them moving forward.
The Memphis Grizzlies are favored by 5.5 points according to DraftKings, and that seems like a fair line. Memphis is the better team in terms of the overall body of work and roster, but New Orleans is undeniably playing better at the moment. If the Pelicans are able to keep this game close, they should be in a position to do what Houston did and pull away as the Grizzlies half court offense potentially fizzles. New Orleans is a superior squad to to the Rockets - a similar performance for Memphis would likely mean a blowout loss at home on TNT. That would continue the current slight spiral for the Grizzlies.
Thankfully, the team’s youth plays to their advantage here. Memphis is sure to be in a bad mood as they take the floor, and taking it our on the Pelicans would make them feel as if they’ve righted the ship. The Grizzlies won’t win by 12 like they did last time...but they will cover.
Memphis 118, New Orleans 111