WHEN: 6:00 PM CT
WHERE: Gainbridge Fieldhouse
HOW TO WATCH/LISTEN: Bally Sports Southeast/92.9 FM ESPN Memphis
MEMPHIS: Brandon Clarke (Questionable, Hip), Dillon Brooks (Questionable, Ankle), John Konchar (Out, Non-COVID Illness), Kenneth Lofton Jr. (Out, Two-Way Transfer), Danny Green (Out, Knee)
INDIANA: Tyrese Haliburton (Out, Elbow), Daniel Theis (Out, Knee), Kendall Brown (Out, Leg)
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUPS:
MEMPHIS: Ja Morant, Desmond Bane, Dillon Brooks, Jaren Jackson Jr., Steven Adams
INDIANA: T.J. McConnell, Andrew Nembhard, Buddy Hield, Aaron Nesmith, Myles Turner
Tonight was supposed to be an exciting matchup between two young teams with star point guards but after Tyrese Haliburton hurt his elbow on Wednesday, this matchup is less fun. Haliburton had played at an All-Star level until his injury, so it would have been fun to see him going head-to-head with Ja Morant tonight. Memphis has had some schedule breaks, and once again the Grizzlies will face a team without their best player. Hopefully, the Grizz will take advantage of this and extend their win streak to nine games.
The Pacers are a team that, before the year, looked to be sellers. Myles Turner and Buddy Hield were thrown in trade discussions often, but Indiana stayed pat and instead of tanking for a shot at Victor Wembanyama or Scoot Henderson, they decided to compete. Indiana is a game behind the Knicks for the sixth seed, and as long as Haliburton does not miss too much time, they will be a play-in team. The Pacers have benefitted from good coaching. After a rough start to his second stint as the Pacers’ head coach last season, Rick Carlisle has taken a group of young players, many of which are rejects on their second team, and created one of the surprise stories of the NBA season.
Indiana is a good homecourt team; the Pacers are 15-8 at the Gainbridge Fieldhouse. The Grizzlies have struggled on the road this season, currently only 10-10 away from Memphis. If the Grizzlies are true contenders, this is the type of game that they cannot lose. Memphis has to show some grit on the road, and while a January game in Indiana against a team without their best player may not seem all that important, these are the ones championship teams do not lose. If the Grizzlies can feed their scorers and play a full 48 minutes, they will claim their ninth straight win.
Feed the Hot Hands
It is not rocket science. No need to overcomplicate things. The Grizzlies’ big three can all dominate the game in different ways. Morant, Desmond Bane and Jaren Jackson Jr. are all capable of scoring 30+, so in a matchup against a team that is in the bottom third for defensive rating, one of them should go off.
Jackson could struggle to have a dominant offensive game. Turner is one of the league’s premier shot-blockers, and he could produce difficulties for Trip. However, the Pacers play small ball a lot; Aaron Nesmith, who is 6’5”, is their starting power forward. If Turner stays on Adams, Jackson could use his size to bully the Pacers. With a small lineup, Turner is also more likely to stay close to the rim as the team’s sole rim protector. If there is no size on the wing to guard a trailing Jackson, he could light it up from beyond the arc.
Bane finally found his shot over the Grizzlies’ win streak, making them even more dangerous. In Wednesday’s game against San Antonio, Bane was 4/5 from three. The re-emergence of his jumper coincided with him finding his confidence — he is back to hitting transition pull-up threes and fly-by triples. Bane is currently only attempting 5.9 three-pointers a game. Once those numbers get back to the 8-10 attempts he was averaging before his injury, he will have a monster scoring night in his home state.
It feels like Morant scores around or over 30 points per game, so for him to “go off,” it will have to be in the form of his second 40-point game of the season. He nearly got there Wednesday but fell short, finishing with 38. Morant’s jumper looked good against San Antonio; he went 3-5 from beyond the arc. Any game now, Morant will explode for 50+. It could be tonight, but if not we will just have to settle for nearly a 30-point triple-double, which has become the norm for Morant.
Play 48 Minutes
There is something about fourth-quarter leads. The Grizzlies always seem to have them and then the next thing you know, they are gone. In the Grizzlies’ wins against the Spurs, Jazz, and Magic, they took their foot off the gas and let their opponents back into the game. The Grizzlies are 26th in the NBA in fourth-quarter scoring margin. That is alarming and unacceptable for a team that hopes to win a championship. Take a guess who is second in the association in fourth-quarter scoring margin: Indiana.
It is hard to say why the Grizzlies struggle so much to close games. Maybe it is coaching. Taylor Jenkins’s teams have always been middle of the pack in fourth-quarter scoring margin. Maybe it is rotations. Morant usually sits for the first 4-6 minutes of the fourth quarter. Maybe it is simply a result of opponents scoring with the benches cleared. Whatever it is, Memphis seems to have a problem with making games more competitive than they need to be. The Grizzlies will hold a lead against the Pacers tonight. It will likely be big and the Grizzlies will likely be ahead going into the fourth quarter. They will once again be tested to see if they can withstand late surges from the opponent. The Grizzlies need to adapt or this will become a serious issue down the line. Let’s see how they handle it tonight.
The Pacers are frisky. However, they are much more intimidating with their (soon-to-be) All-Star point guard running the offense. While the Grizzlies will have to deal with Turner, Hield and Bennedict Mathurin, it is unlikely the Pacers will have the offensive firepower to keep up with Memphis. With the Big Three healthy, I expect a lot of points from the Grizzlies. Who will have the big game? I do not know. In a league where 40+ point games are a regularity, it is only a matter of time until Morant, Bane, or Jackson has a career night. As long as the Grizzlies do not take their foot off the gas, they should cruise to a double-digit victory.
Memphis 125, Indiana 113
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