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Game Preview: Memphis Grizzlies at Utah Jazz

Memphis looks to stay hot in Salt Lake.

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Utah Jazz v Memphis Grizzlies Photo by Justin Ford/Getty Images

WHO: Memphis Grizzlies (55-23, 26-13 road) vs. Utah Jazz (46-32, 27-11 home)

WHEN: 8:00 PM CT

WHERE: Vivint Arena — Salt Lake City, UT

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

INJURY REPORT:

Memphis: Ja Morant (Out, Knee Soreness), Killian Tillie (Out, Knee Soreness), Tyrell Terry (Out, Foot Soreness), Dillon Brooks (Doubtful, Hip Soreness)

Utah: Udoka Azubuike (Out, Ankle), Trent Forrest (Day-to-day, Concussion)

PROJECTED STARTING LINEUPS:

MEMPHIS: Tyus Jones, Desmond Bane, Ziaire Williams, Jaren Jackson Jr., Steven Adams

UTAH: Mike Conley, Donovan Mitchell, Bojan Bogdanovic, Royce O’Neale, Rudy Gobert

Oh, how the tables have turned. After losing all three regular-season games to the Jazz a season ago, Memphis has the opportunity to complete a sweep of this year’s series. In fact, the Grizzlies had lost six straight regular-season games to Utah before a one-point victory in November.

The Jazz eliminated the Grizzlies from the playoffs last season. But since Utah’s disappointing, premature playoff exit these teams have been trending in different directions. Memphis has skyrocketed from an eighth seed to a true contender, while Utah has slipped to sixth in the Western Conference.

Utah decided to run it back with their aging core after losing in the second round last season but with every passing game, it seems the Jazz are destined to blow it up this summer. They are 10-10 since the All-Star break and 1-6 in their last seven games. I’m not a body language expert but geez, if bad chemistry was lethal, Utah would be on life support.

The tension is building in Salt Lake City. Donovan Mitchell’s post-game interview after the Jazz blew a 25-point lead to the Los Angeles Clippers was damning and recent Mitchell-Rudy Gobert stats that have circled the Internet indicate the two are not exactly on the same page.

Enter the NBA’s hottest team. Sporting a seven-game win streak, the Grizzlies come to Utah for a game with more implications than meet the eye. A loss improves the Jazz’s 2022 pick which will be sent to Memphis. Utah is only a game and a half ahead of the Minnesota Timberwolves for the six seed, meaning it is certainly possible the Grizzlies and the Jazz could meet in the playoffs for the second consecutive year.

Facing Utah, a competitive team with a tough road crowd, is a great way to prepare for the environments Memphis will see in a couple of weeks. The Grizzlies are 11-1 in their last 12. Let’s look at the keys to staying hot ahead of the postseason.

Attack Utah’s wings

Rudy Gobert: two-time Defensive Player of the Year. Rest of the Jazz’s defense: not great? With Gobert, Utah’s defensive rating is 110.6 but without him, their rating drops to a league-worst 117.0.

Sure, the Stifle Tower is an elite defender – whether we want to admit it or not – but let us take a look at the rest of Utah’s roster.

Some of Utah’s wings and guards include Bojan Bogdanovic (32 years old), Mike Conley (34), Rudy Gay (35), Royce O’Neale (28) and Jordan Clarkson (29). While O’Neale and Clarkson are not exactly old, both players struggle defensively and are slow on that end of the court.

Conley, Mitchell and Clarkson are all undersized, which should allow Desmond Bane and Ziaire Williams, who stand at 6’5” and 6’9” respectively, to get uncontested jumpers, igniting the Memphis offense.

In last year’s playoff series, Brooks and Ja Morant were able to dominate offensively because of these mismatches. If Melton, Bane, Jones and Williams are able to take advantage of these mismatches then the Grizzlies can cruise to a victory.

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Phoenix Suns Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Maintain the next man up mentality

Throughout the Memphis Grizzlies win streak – and the entire season for that matter – everyone has stepped up and had their moments. So, in these final regular-season games, as Memphis role players get more minutes, it will be interesting to see who shines.

Whether it is De’Anthony Melton giving gamely heat checks or Santi Aldama nailing a reverse dunk, the Grizzlies mob mentality extends to the whole team. The culture Taylor Jenkins and the Grizzlies organization has instilled in this team is evident in every game. If I didn’t know any better, I would think Memphis didn’t have a bench to sit on since the whole team is dancing and celebrating after each play.

The world saw on Friday night that the narrative the Grizzlies are better without Ja Morant is ludicrous. They are a great team, from the starters to the end of the bench, and even with four starters and their backup point guard out, they were able to defeat the association’s best team. No matter who sees the floor, the Jazz will have their hands full because the chemistry in Memphis is among the league’s best.

NBA: Playoffs-Memphis Grizzlies at Utah Jazz Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports

The Prediction

With a mostly healthy lineup, the Grizz will extend a winning streak that has blossomed from chemistry and depth. The Jazz are slipping and the Memphis guards should be able to find open shots against an aging defense. Jaren Jackson Jr. and Steven Adams can match Gobert’s size, clogging the paint on both ends.

Memphis 121, Utah 115

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