The Grizzlies come into New York as 2.5 point favorites.
The Nets aren’t the only New York team looking to improve on a disappointing season. The Knicks have gone through their fair share of struggles over the last two years. In fact, the Knickerbockers are an abysmal 30-100 since the start of the 2018-19 season. That is the worst record in the NBA during that time. Meanwhile, the Grizzlies have had a poor run of things since they last made the playoffs in 2016. Since that postseason run, Memphis has a combined record of 78-133 over the last three years. However, the Grizzlies have started to turn things around this year thanks to the addition of one specific player.
You can’t talk about Memphis without first mentioning the emergence of Ja Morant, the second overall pick in the most recent NBA draft. The kid has already established himself as a superstar for years to come in this league. His numbers are not going to blow anybody away (17.5 PPG, 7.1 APG, 3.5 RPG), but you just have to watch this young man to see what all the hype is about. If you watch any games the Grizzlies play, you will identify that he is the best playmaker on the team, and maybe even on the court depending on who they play.
Ja Morant has been the catalyst for Memphis’s bounce-back 23-24 record, but the Grizzlies did an excellent job adding other key pieces to the team. Jaren Jackson Jr. has also been playing like a well-rounded NBA big man. The second year center has upped his point production to 17.8 points per game from 13.8 points per game, which currently leads the team. Jonas Valanciunas has also carved out a nice role for himself with the Grizzlies. The big man has never dazzled with his numbers, but his play has gotten drastically better since he came to Memphis two years ago. In his time with the Grizzlies, he has posted career-highs in points per game as well as rebounds per game. What may be most shocking though is the fact that he is posting a player efficiency rating of 22.26. Not only does that lead the team, but it is also the 19th highest PER in the NBA, putting him ahead of players like Khris Middleton, Kemba Walker, Chris Paul, and DeMar DeRozan. All of these improvements have brought the Grizzlies out of oblivion and given them a 23-24 record, making them the eighth seed in the Western Conference playoffs.
As for the Knicks, things could be better. There are a few positives to takeaway from this season: the emergence of Julius Randle as a legit NBA big man; an improvement on the team’s record from last year to this season; and, the team is continuing to develop it’s young talent. It also looks like the Knickerbockers have found their man with Interim Head Coach Mike Miller, who has gone 9-17 since taking over for David Fizdale back in December. I still don’t have a lot of confidence in the Knicks to blow me away this season, but you have to be happy with the signs that show things are headed in the right direction for a franchise that has been one of the league’s worst for almost 20 years now.
We can talk about the outlook of these teams all day long, but a winner must be chosen for this specific game. This will be the first of two match-ups between these franchises all season, with the next game coming later in April. All you need to do to understand how this game will play out is go back to New York’s last game, a 97-92 road loss to the Hornets. In that one, Charlotte Point Guard Terry Rozier exploded for 30 points and 10 rebounds. I expect Ja Morant will also have a similar game tonight. He may not be as effective on the boards, but New York has shown that their weakness is point guard play. Ja Morant is going to want to make a name for himself with all eyes on Madison Square Garden. I think the rookie will record a double-double under the spotlight of the Big Apple, and that will be too much for the Knicks to handle. I like the Grizzlies to cover in this game.