WHO: Memphis Grizzlies (5-2, 4-1 Home) vs. Orlando Magic (5-2, 2-2 Away)
WHEN: 7:00 PM CT
WHERE: FedExForum in Memphis, TN
HOW TO WATCH/LISTEN: FOX Sports Southeast/92.9 FM ESPN Memphis
Memphis- Mike Conley (Questionable, sore left achilles), Marc Gasol (Questionable, left ankle), JaMychal Green (Out, left foot/ankle), Ben McLemore (Out, right foot), Wayne Selden Jr. (Out, right quad)
Orlando- Elfrid Payton (Doubtful, hamstring), Adreian Payne (Out, hand)
Memphis: Mike Conley, Andrew Harrison, James Ennis III, Jarell Martin, Marc Gasol
Orlando: D.J. Augustin, Terrence Ross, Evan Fournier, Aaron Gordon, Nikola Vucevic
(Authors Note: This Game Preview was written under the assumption that at least Conley or Gasol plays tonight)
Tonight’s matchup for the Grizzlies pits them against an elite East powerhouse in the Orlando Magic. Seriously, the Magic are good. I’m just as shocked as you. The Magic, like the Grizzlies, have been one of the most surprising teams this season, jumping out to a 5-2 record with blowout wins over both the Kawhi-less Spurs and Cavaliers.
Coach Frank Vogel has somehow turned this Magic team into an offensive juggernaut, averaging nearly 117 points a game. That stat is a bit inflated due to the Magic playing some teams who are horrendous on the defensive end, as the Cavs and Nets are both bottom 5 in NBA in points allowed per game. The Grizzlies, meanwhile, allow the 3rd fewest points per game in the NBA, holding the Warriors and Rockets (twice) in check. Tonight’s matchup will likely come down to if the Grizzlies can hold another good offensive team under 100 points.
Here are a few other keys to the game for the Grizzlies:
Wake up the starters
The Grizzlies were able to overcome a bad game from the starters on Saturday against Houston (thanks, Chandler) but couldn’t survive a second bad game on Monday against the Hornets. The Grizzlies bench outscored the Grizzlies starters 51-48 on Monday night. Part of that is the bench being one of the best in the NBA, but it was mostly due to bad games from both Mike Conley and Marc Gasol. Simply, Memphis needs more than 26 points on 8-33 shooting from their star players. The Grizzlies bench is good enough to carry the team if Conley or Gasol are having off nights, but it will be tough to win games if both stars struggle.
The Magic bench has some firepower in Marreese Speights and Jonathon Simmons (combined 38 points Monday vs. Pelicans) so the Grizzlies shouldn’t try and rely on their bench tonight.
Get an early lead (and hold it)
The Magic’s two losses have come on the road in games they were down at the half. If the Grizzlies can jump out to an early lead, like they have their previous 3 games, they might be able to put away a Magic team that is still young and not used to winning. However, the Grizzlies haven’t been able to hold leads. They blew a 22 point lead in the win last Thursday vs. Dallas and a 13 point lead in the loss Monday to Charlotte. This relates to the Grizzlies starters playing well since the bench has done it’s job in maintaining and building leads (+6.1 net rating) while the starters are have been struggling (-1.1). If the Grizzlies let Orlando jump to an early lead, it may give them enough confidence on the road to run away with it.
The Magic are an improved team and far exceeding expectations early on. However, I think part of their early season success is due to the level of competition. Their 5 wins come against the Heat, Nets, Cavs, Spurs and Pelicans. Not necessarily the easiest wins in the world, but also not extremely difficult. The Magic’s early season success is also influenced greatly by their unsustainable 3 point shooting and defense. They currently lead the league in 3 point percentage and allow the lowest percentage of makes in the league. They may be able to keep Memphis held in check on their own 3 point line, but if the defense can shut down teams like the Warriors and Rockets, they should be able to handle the Magic.
The game will likely come down to whether or not the Grizzlies defense can stop the Magic offense. The Grizzlies defense has gotten worn out lately by quick, shifty guards in James Harden and Kemba Walker. Evan Fournier is crafty, but he’s not quite as good as the two previously mentioned players. The Magic won’t be able to attack Jarell in the pick and roll like the Rockets and Hornets did. Aaron Gordon and Nikola Vucevic are having great offensive seasons, but Gasol should be able to keep them in check down low while also taking advantage of their average defense.
Assuming at least Conley or Gasol plays, I see the Grizzlies able to build a decent enough lead that even a 4th quarter Magic run can’t overcome.
Bonus Prediction: I also predict the Grizzlies will be the first to hold Orlando under 100 points for the first time this season.
Memphis 102, Orlando 96