WHEN: 7:00 PM CT
WHERE: FedExForum, Memphis, TN
HOW TO WATCH/LISTEN: Bally Sports Southeast, 92.9 FM ESPN Memphis
MEMPHIS: Kennedy Chandler (Out, G League Assignment), Danny Green (Out, Left Knee Surgery), Jake LaRavia (Out, G League Assignment), Kenneth Lofton Jr. (Two-Way Transfer), Xavier Tillman Sr. (G League Assignment), Vince Williams Jr. (Two-Way Transfer)
CLEVELAND: Donovan Mitchell (Doubtful, Left Groin Strain), Isaiah Mobley (Out, Two-Way Transfer), Dean Wade (Out, Left Shoulder Sprain), Dylan Windler (Right Ankle Sprain)
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUPS:
MEMPHIS: Ja Morant, Desmond Bane, Dillon Brooks, Jaren Jackson Jr., Steven Adams
CLEVELAND: Darius Garland, Caris LeVert, Isaac Okoro, Evan Mobley, Jarrett Allen
Tonight marks the first of two matchups between the Grizzlies and Cavaliers this season. It would have also marked the Grizzlies' first look against the Cavaliers with Donovan Mitchell, but he was downgraded to Doubtful with a left groin strain injury he suffered in the 2nd half of the Cavaliers' Martin Luther King Jr. Day game against the New Orleans Pelicans. Regardless of Mitchell’s status, Cleveland will arguably be the Grizzlies' toughest test, as they try to extend their current 10-game win streak and tie the franchise record for longest win streak at 11 games.
The Cavaliers are currently tied for 4th in the Eastern Conference standings and are only .5 games out from 2nd in the standings out east. Record-wise, the New Orleans Pelicans and Sacramento Kings are the only other teams during this win streak that is close to the competition the Cavs could present.
Both of these teams seem to be relatively healthy and playing some of their best basketball (the Cavaliers have won 6 of 9), so the fans should be in for a treat. However, Cleveland is 9-13 on the road, so how can the Grizzlies tie their franchise record for the longest win streak and win their 20th game at home?
Win the backcourt battle
When the Donovan Mitchell trade went down last summer, questions about the best backcourt in the NBA became a trending topic and included both the Grizzlies and Cavaliers. So far, neither has disappointed as both backcourts have combined to each average nearly 50 points per game (Grizzlies - 49.2, Cav - 49.8) and about 12 assists per game combined (Grizzlies - 11.9, Cavs - 12.6).
More than likely we will miss the opportunity for the star backcourts to matchup in this game with Mitchell’s Doubtful status. However, Caris LeVert is more than capable of producing points in his own right as he has scored more than 20 points in 7 of his 20 starts this season replacing either Mitchell or Garland including a 41-point performance against the Boston Celtics earlier this season.
Despite Donovan Mitchell’s status, Ja Morant and Desmond Bane have proven themselves to show up when the lights are the brightest and the competition becomes stiffer, so I expect them to take the best backcourt question personally and deliver the “best backcourt in the league” type of performance.
Continue to take care of business at home
The Grizzlies are tied with the Denver Nuggets for the league’s best record at home with a 19-3 record, including winning 7 straight games in the Grindhouse. Additionally, only 1 of those 3 losses has come against an Eastern Conference foe, and that was the NBA’s leading Boston Celtics back in early November.
Of their 22 home games, 10 have come against the Eastern Conference including playing the current top 7 teams in the East standings to a 6-1 record with a point differential of 67 points. Therefore, the Grizzlies are dominant at home against the best the East has to offer, and considering the Cavaliers have a losing record on the road, that trend should continue tonight.
The pressure of tying the franchise record for the longest win streak can creep into the minds of the players, but considering this year’s team consists of the majority of the same team that tied that record last season, I expect that not to matter. Cleveland poses a real threat and could be a real contender out east, but the Grizzlies' dominance at home — especially against the East — should tilt the scales in the Grizzlies' favor and give them a boost as they head into a five-game road trip after this game.
Prediction: Cleveland 111, Memphis 126
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