Toronto is in the middle of a tumultuous period of performance ill-fitting their status atop the league’s list of most wins. After puking on themselves against the Boston Celtics in crunch time, they yawned their way through 48 minutes against the Phoenix Suns, only for Pascal Siakam to bail them out of the leaky boat with the spiciest of drives. Still, the Raptors have won 8 of their last 10, and Kawhi Leonard is rounding into proper MVP form. Things really aren’t that bad at all, especially when you compare Toronto to their upcoming opponent.
The Memphis Grizzlies’ dysfunction makes the Raptors look like the Brady Bunch. Memphis has lost 10 of their last 11, and some of those have been fairly humiliating. Marc Gasol had more turnovers (7) than points (5) against the Houston Rockets. They score fewer points per game (98.0) than any team in the league. Though some of that is surely due to their glacial pace, they also have a lower effective field goal percentage than the Phoenix Suns. Mike Conley and Gasol are both shooting below 44 percent from the field, and neither has looked great recently. As you’ll see in a moment, those who pay close attention are fairly down on Memphis at the moment.
That isn’t to say that the Grizzlies aren’t dangerous. Gasol is a big who can stretch the floor, which the Raptors learned was a team weakness as Al Horford shredded their defence on Wednesday. Jaren Jackson Jr. is a future stud, and he will be a tough matchup for any Raptor. If the Raptors take it easy, Conley gets into the paint at will, and Memphis’ bigs hit from the outside, it’s easy to envision a scenario in which the Raptors lose this game. The Raps have got to take it seriously.
Joe Mullinax of SB Nation’s Grizzly Bear Blues was kind enough to offer his time to preview the game. Here’s a short Q and A with Joe.
Louis Zatzman: On Nov 21, the Grizzlies were 12-5. They are now 19-25 and losers of 9 of 10. Aside from the obvious, what’s changed?
Joe Mullinax: Marc Gasol stopped playing at an All-NBA level. Shelvin Mack stopped being a super sub. Players regressed back to their means, and coaching wasn’t able to compensate. They lost their defensive identity and continued offensive woes were worsened because of the issues on the defensive end. Now they are banged up on the wing as well, and the $24 million hole in the roster that is Chandler Parsons is too much to overcome.
Louis: It’s been a really tough stretch of games against San Antonio, New Orleans, San Antonio, Miami, Houston, and Milwaukee, but Jaren Jackson Jr. has by and large performed really well. How much of the season is just about him, at this point?
Joe: It isn’t really about him as much as it should be. The team holds him to a high standard with regard to mistakes, benching him for missed assignments and quick fouls. They don’t let him play through mistakes – he’s at the bottom of the top-10 in minutes played, and that’s a travesty. He’s not able to learn through adversity, and he looks more scared to mess up than anything right now.
Louis: Marc Gasol had more turnovers than points the other day against Houston. What the hell? Does he want to be in Memphis right now? Should he be traded?
Joe: Should he be traded? Yes, because the rumor is he is going to opt out, and you don’t want to lose him for nothing. Will he be traded? No – he has a large trade kicker that complicates things, and the Grizzlies (probably foolishly) still believe they are a possible playoff team. Big Spain likely is staying in Memphis.
Louis: Call it.
Joe: Not sure why anyone would willingly pick Memphis in any game right now, much less one against one of the NBA’s elite. It’s possible they compete, but it’s far more likely the Raptors run them off the floor. That’s especially true since Memphis is on the second game of a back to back.
Toronto 107, Memphis 94
TV: Sportsnet One | Radio: TSN1050 | Tipoff: 7:30pm EST
Per Raptors Republic’s own Vivek Jacobs, the Raptors will be without OG Anunoby (personal) and Jonas Valanciunas (injury). All others should be available. Here’s the probable depth chart:
PG: Kyle Lowry, Fred Van Vleet, Delon Wright
SG: Danny Green, Norman Powell, Patrick Mccaw
SF: Kawhi Leonard, CJ Miles, Malachi Richardson
PF: Pascal Siakam
C: Serge Ibaka, Greg Monroe
All of Memphis’ natural small forwards are out for varying reasons, including Kyle Anderson, Dillon Brooks, and Chandler Parsons. So, there’s that.
PG: Mike Conley, Jevon Carter, Shelvin Mack
SG: Garrett Temple, Julian Washburn
SF: Justin Holiday, Omri Cassipi
PF: Jaren Jackson Jr., JaMychal Green, Yutu Watanabe
C: Marc Gasol, Joakim Noah, Ivan Rabb