The Memphis Grizzlies head for the mountains for their last road game of the regular season. After their first loss in over two weeks, Memphis has another opportunity to tie the franchise record in wins as they play the Denver Nuggets.
Despite not having played for three days, the Grizzlies looked gassed toward the end of their game against Utah. The shots Memphis usually hits were not falling and it was a miracle the game made it to OT. It is a great sign that even though they did not play their best basketball, the Grizz still almost came away with the victory on the road against a playoff team.
Now the Grizzlies will look to bounce back against MVP candidate Nikola Jokić and the six-seeded Nuggets. Jokić has been incredible, averaging 27 points per game, 13.7 rebounds, and 7.9 assists. His supporting cast, however, has not offered him much help. The Nuggets do not have another player averaging over 15 points or five assists. Denver is 2-6 in their last eight home games while Memphis boasts the third-best road win percentage in the league.
Ahead of the game, Ryan Blackburn of Denver Stiffs – the Nuggets SBNation site – offered to share his thoughts on this evening’s matchup.
1. The Grizzlies have won all three games this season against Denver but only by an average margin of 5 points. Memphis is second in clutch time winning percentage. How can the Nuggets close out the game against a team that is so successful in the last five minutes?
The simple answer is that Nikola Jokić gives the Nuggets a chance in every clutch game. As diligent as many teams are toward slowing down Jokić’s scoring and playmaking, it sometimes doesn’t matter what a defense does on a particular night. He can win games by himself, and if the Nuggets supporting cast is up to the challenge, they bolster him well with scoring and playmaking of their own. Defense is often a challenge for Denver, but if opponents don’t hit the open shots they generate, the Nuggets are one of the best at finishing possessions with a defensive rebound. Be inefficient or sloppy, and the Nuggets will take advantage on both ends.
2. What Grizzlies player do you see giving Denver the most trouble tonight?
With so many players in and out of the lineup for the Grizzlies, it’s difficult to pick out someone who will definitely play. One guy who I’d be most worried about if I were Denver is De’Anthony Melton. He’s a menace on both ends of the court, and though he gets a ton of credit for his work defensively he’s a shooter and scorer the Nuggets have struggled to contain too. Melton has averaged strong numbers against the Nuggets throughout his career, and the Nuggets don’t have a great perimeter stopper.
3. The Nuggets actually have a better record on the road than at home this season. Why do you think that is and how do you think that will play out in the postseason?
It’s a very weird split. The Nuggets have often been a team that’s used their home court advantage at altitude, and even when they were a slower team in past years they still tired our opponents late in games. This year, Denver always seems to be the tired team, and their execution on both ends of the floor just hasn’t held up. Jokić is often the only player to properly execute the game plan on both ends, and that’s not a great place to be.
4. If Jamal Murray and/or Michael Porter Jr. is able to return for the Playoffs, what are your predictions for the Nuggets?
If the Nuggets added Murray and/or Porter to the mix, there would be a significant emotional boost for a team that’s survived without them for as long as they have. Whether the playoff path is altered significantly is hard to say. Denver would be significantly more potent in a first-round series against the Mavericks or Warriors. They might even be more of a challenge against the Grizzlies in a possible second-round series. Whether that makes a difference in the end result or not remains to be seen, but it does sort of feel like the Nuggets are coming to terms with not seriously competing this year, which puts a significant cap on their possibilities in the playoffs.
Nikola Jokic (-125) is now the favorite to win NBA MVP pic.twitter.com/jMJxuu9y8n— DraftKings Sportsbook (@DKSportsbook) March 30, 2022
5. Make Nikola Jokić’s MVP case:
The fact is, no player in the NBA has been more consistent, more impactful, and more meaningful to their team’s success. Jokić IS the Nuggets. He captains their offense. He captains their defense. He leads by example. He makes everything possible for the Nuggets franchise. He’s about to become the first player in NBA history to achieve 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds, and 500 assists in a single season. He’s the most efficient high-volume scorer in the NBA. He’s won games with his scoring, his playmaking, his rebounding, AND his defense throughout the year. He’s improved upon last season’s MVP campaign, and he’s done it without Jamal Murray AND Michael Porter Jr. to bolster his success.
The Nuggets are about to hit their OVER on their Las Vegas win projection despite Murray and Porter playing nine out of a possible 160 games to date. Jokić is the biggest reason why. He’s the MVP.
Thank you, Ryan, for participating in this game’s Five Questions with the Opponent. Follow him on Twitter (@NBABlackburn), along with Denver Stiffs (@Denverstiffs), for the best Denver Nuggets coverage.