Memphis’ losing streak was extended to 11 games on Wednesday, after the equally woeful Phoenix disposed of them 110-102. Andrew Harrison showed plenty of positive signs with 20 points and seven assists, while Marc Gasol continued to toil away with 22 points and 13 boards. The loss dropped the Grizzlies below the Suns, and into 14th place in the west. Their record of 18-42 is just half a game better than that of the Kings and the Magic, who share the worst records in the league.
The Nuggets (33-28) have some problems of their own after they conceded 41 points to the Clippers in the final quarter to lose 120-122. With the loss, they swapped places with Los Angeles, and fell out of a playoff position. Every player in Denver’s starting lineup scored at least 18 points, but it was once again their defense that let them down.
Three keys to the game
The Grizzlies’ form - Memphis are not a good team to begin with, but they are playing as badly as ever since the beginning of February. In this time, they are scoring just 94.8 points per 100 possessions, 2.5 points less than the next worst team. The Grizzlies are not performing with their usual grit on defense either, with their defensive rating of 110.1 the ninth worst figure in the league.
Denver defense - The Nuggets have looked pretty potent on offense all season, and yet find themselves sitting in ninth place in the west. Why? A look at their defense yields some answers. Their defensive rating for the season is 108.3, the sixth worst in the league. Since the end of January, however, they are dead last in the league in defense, conceding an enormous 115.1 points per 100 possessions. Memphis aren’t exactly the most dangerous offensive team in the league, but Denver will need to clean things up at that end of the floor.
Which Jokic will turn up? - Jokic is as dangerous as almost anyone in the league at his best, and showcased this with a four-game stretch prior to Denver’s most recent matchup against the Clippers in which he averaged 25.5 points, 13.3 rebounds, and 11.8 assists. Then, against LA, he took just five shots on the way to 18 points, six boards, and four assists. He was 4-for-5 from the floor in that game and 2-for-3 from deep, but he appeared significantly less engaged on offense. Denver have plenty of players capable of scoring, but they are at their best when Jokic is aggressive.
Matchup to watch
Nikola Jokic vs Marc Gasol - These two versatile bigs are at opposite ends of their career, but they will engage in a fascinating battle in this game. Jokic averages 17.3 points, 10.5 boards, and 6.0 assists this season, and has shown an improved ability to step out and connect from long range, hitting 36.6% of 3-point attempts for the year.
Gasol’s stats aren’t dissimilar. He puts up 17.8 points per game this season, to go with 8.5 points and 4.0 assists, and though his 3-point percentage is a little lower at 32.4%, he is still enough of a threat that he needs to be respected from long range. Gasol is a far better defender than the inexperienced Jokic, but he will need to call upon all of his experience against the multi-faceted Serb.
Memphis Grizzlies predicted starting lineup
PG - Andrew Harrison | SG - Ben McLemore | SF - Dillon Brooks | PF - JaMychal Green | C - Marc Gasol
Denver Nuggets predicted starting lineup
PG - Jamal Murray | SG - Gary Harris | SF - Will Barton | PF - Wilson Chandler | C - Nikola Jokic
Gasol recorded a career-high 14 assists when these sides met for the first time in the season, while also contributing 15 points and six rebounds. The next time they met, he played more of a traditional center role, scoring 22 points, grabbing 11 boards, and dishing out just two assists.
Jokic has also shown Memphis what he can do this season. In the first game, while his counterpart was dishing out 14 assists, the young Serb shot 11-for-17 on the way to 28 points, 13 rebounds, eight assists and two steals.
Memphis have only been given a 6.5-point head start in this game, and this won’t be enough. Denver have a whole lot more to play for and are a significantly better team, and with all their talent on the floor, will be able to blow past the Grizzlies by a lot more than six points.
Denver shouldn’t have any problems in this one, and will be able to keep right on the heels of the Clippers with a comfortable victory. Jokic and Gasol will fight out a highly contested battle at center, with Gasol capitalizing on Jokic’s shoddy defense to score 20-plus points. Jokic will be more aggressive than in his previous game, and will put up over 25 points, and grab close to ten rebounds and ten assists.
The rest of Denver’s side will also chip in, something the rest of Memphis’ team won’t be able to do. Harris, Murray and the rest will all contribute enough to give the Nuggets an easy 118-104 win on the road.
The game will be broadcast locally on Fox Sports Southeast and Altitude. Tip-off is at 8pm ET.