The Memphis Grizzlies (35-18) are enjoying the kind of season many Knicks fans expected from our heroes when the gates lifted on the season. They sit third in the Western Conference and are ranked eighth in both offense and defense. The Beale Street Bears can jet, too, running for the ninth-best pace. (We don’t need to always repeat how slow the Knickerbockers are.)
The Grizz rode an 11-game win streak into mid-January and have gone 5-and-4 ever since. Monday, they lost an overtime thriller in Philly, 122-119. If you haven’t had a chance to catch a Memphis game this season, get your popcorn ready. Will New York match their vim and vigor in this tilt?
Tip-off’s at 7:30 p.m., gritty grinders.
Ja Morant (6’3”, 174 lbs) is the league’s fifth-highest scorer with 26.4 ppg. The young playmaker dishes a team-best 6.8 dimes, and he’s second on the team with six rebounds per outing. Given his speed of play, his 3.5 turnovers are forgivable. My God, the second selection from the 2019 draft is fun to watch. The dunks:
Ja Morant reads the defense and makes a pinpoint pass to set up Jonas Valanciunas for your Heads Up Play of the Day! pic.twitter.com/vTeuOxJqqn— NBA TV (@NBATV) January 6, 2020
Morant received his first All-Star selection this season, well deserved. Most likely, Thibs intends to start Kemba Walker but this might be a good night to rest the knees. Morant leaves dental imprints on weak defenders. Maybe it’s the COVID talking, but I’d love to see Deuce McBride cover Ja for a few minutes. McBride logged another 39-point game in Westchester last night (including seven 3’s) and is advocating hard for big-league exposure. New York has called him up for tonight’s contest, so he will be available. Three minutes, Tom...that’s all I’m asking.
Desmond Bane (6’5”, 215 lbs) is having an incredible sophomore season. The 23-year old Hoosier is the team’s third-highest scorer (18.1 ppg) and their best 3-point shooter at 42% on almost seven attempts per game. His 30.2 minutes per game is second only to Morant’s. Bane should feature heavily on Evan Fournier tonight, who is coming off two fantastic games. Maybe all the trade gossip lit a fire under his derriere?
Rookie Ziaire Williams (6’8”, 215 lbs) has averaged 6.8 points in about 21 minutes per game. He’s starting in place of Dillon Brooks (sprained ankle). Injury and COVID have limited his playing time this season, and he’s unpolished, but the 10th pick in the 2021 draft can still drop 17 points on occasion. Thibs should look to exploit RJ Barrett’s advantage here. After his career-best play in January, hopes are high that the Canadian drafted right behind Morant continues to blossom into February.
A significant contributor to Memphis’s dominance is a healthy Jaren Jackson, Jr. (6’11”, 242 lbs). The 22-year old is averaging 16.4 points and 5.8 rebounds per game, and his whopping 7’5.25” wingspan lets him swat 2.3 blocks per game (second in the league). He missed most of last season due to knee meniscus surgery, and yet still is one of only 12 NBA players to notch 240 blocks and 250 triples before his 23rd birthday. He’s tall in the four spot, and Julius Randle will have work for separation with this dude’s go-go-gadget arms flapping about.
Steven Adams (6’11”, 265 lbs) is still solid after nine seasons, and it’s hard to believe he’s only 28. The Big Kiwi is Memphis’s top glassman with 9.4 boards per game and leads the league with 212 total offensive rebounds this season. No one ever confused him for a scorer, so the 6.6 ppg is no shock. It was unexpected when Memphis acquired him, but he provides maturity and gravitas that balances this wild pack of colts. Look for our own wild stallion, Mitchell Robinson, to flex his muscles against the vet tonight.
Quentin Grimes has taken the role of Thibs’s security blanket while Derrick Rose rehabs and will probably see extended minutes tonight. No complaints here; the kid is a stud and might one day be remembered as the steal of the draft. The Knicks will need to follow his defensive lead tonight if they intend to keep up with the Grizz.
Call me delusional—and this preview comes to you drenched in fever sweat—but this will be another nationally-televised, ESPN game. In a recent telecast, Jeff Van Gundy drubbed the team for its performance against the Heat. The Knicks will redeem themselves this time out. Will they win? Ah, the delirium fog is obscuring my third eye…outcome becoming hazy….
Madison Square Garden. Wednesday. 7:30 p.m. MSG and ESPN (again?). Go, Knicks! Go!