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Game Preview: San Antonio Spurs at Memphis Grizzlies

San Antonio Spurs v Memphis Grizzlies - Play-In Tournament Photo by Justin Ford/Getty Images

After having the final matchup of their brief homestand postponed due to COVID-19 complications, San Antonio must leave the welcoming walls of the AT&T Center for a grueling seven-game road trip. The Spurs are well-rested and mostly intact, but their trek across the country kicks off with a tough tilt against Ja Morant and the upstart Memphis Grizzlies.

Although the Silver and Black have split their two outings since Dejounte Murray entered health and safety protocols, their undermanned divisional adversary should give them all they can handle. Ja is fresh off his second 40-point explosion of the season, and sidekicks Desmond Bane and Jaren Jackson Jr. have helped usher in a new era of Grit and Grind basketball.

San Antonio Spurs (14-19) @ Memphis Grizzlies (22-14)

December 31, 2021 | 7:00 PM CT

Watch: CW35 | Listen: WOAI (1200 AM)

Spurs Injuries: Zach Collins (Out — Ankle), Dejounte Murray (Out — COVID-19 Protocols), Devontae Cacok (Out — COVID-19 Protocols), Lonnie Walker IV (Questionable — Knee)

Grizzlies Injuries: Yves Pons (Out — COVID-19 Protocols), De’Anthony Melton (Out — COVID-19 Protocols), Dillon Brooks (Out — COVID-19 Protocols), John Konchar (Out — COVID-19 Protocols), Ziaire Williams (Out — COVID-19 Protocols), Jarrett Culver (Out — COVID-19 Protocols), Xavier Tillman (Out — COVID-19 Protocols), Sam Merrill (Out — Ankle), Santi Aldama (Game Time Decision — Calf)

What To Watch For

  • COVID-19 protocols decimated rosters across the NBA this holiday season, but Memphis has been hit especially hard by the pandemic since Christmas rolled around. The Grizzlies will be without several members of their regular rotation, including De’Anthony Melton, Dillon Brooks, and John Konchar. As a result, general manager Zachary Kleiman signed Tyrell Terry, Shaq Buchanan, and Xavier Sneed to ten-day contracts using the league’s hardship exception to bolster their withering depth chart. Despite players landing on the injury report every day, head coach Taylor Jenkins has done a phenomenal job of steering his shorthanded ball club to three consecutive victories while ascending to fourth place in the Western Conference standings. The former Austin Toros playcaller sports a 6-3 record against the Spurs since assuming lead playcaller responsibilities in 2019. His familiarity with their system has seemingly given him a slight edge over San Antonio. And with Ja Morant, Desmond Bane, and Jaren Jackson Jr. at his disposal, the understaffed Grizzlies could still prove to be a formidable foe for the Silver and Black.
  • Ja Morant established himself as one of the premier young talents in the NBA from the second he stepped onto the professional scene in 2019. Yet the spindly point guard has made yet another massive developmental leap and put his name in the All-Star conversation during his third season. The 22-year-old floor general averages 24.5 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 6.6 assists per game, and he has been the catalyst for what has been the seventh-best offense in the association up to this point. While his responsibilities have increased, his field goal and three-point efficiency have improved to 47.8% and 38.3%, both career highs. Grounding the Grizzlies begins with putting the clamps on Morant. Memphis is 9-3 when Ja records at least 26 points and 3-9 when he fails to reach that mark. Jaren Jackson Jr. and Desmond Bane are more than capable of exploding for enormous performances, but neither can leverage their scoring prowess into playmaking opportunities quite their superstar teammate. Throwing different looks at Morant and making him as uncomfortable as possible is San Antonio’s best shot at walking away with a dub. However, that will be easier said than done with Dejounte Murray on the sidelines.
  • Dejounte Murray has been the life force behind San Antonio this season, leading the team in points, rebounds, assists, steals, touches, deflections, shots, and minutes. No one has been more important to what the Spurs have done on both ends of the court, and they took a monumental blow when their starting point guard found himself in COVID-19 protocols on Sunday. The Silver and Black were in the middle of perhaps their best stretch of basketball this season, but they maintained their momentum against the pitiful Pistons and nearly conquered the streaking Jazz. And if not for the NBA postponing their matchup with the hodgepodge Heat, the good guys might be 2-1 without Murray. That said, the Grizzlies pose a legitimate threat. San Antonio will need everyone to step up if they want to defeat their divisional rival, and Derrick White, Keldon Johnson, Jakob Poeltl, Doug McDermott, Tre Jones, and Devin Vassell will have to replace Dejounte’s scoring, rebounding, and facilitating by committee on Friday night

For the Grizzlies fans’ perspective, please visit Grizzly Bear Blues.

PtR’s Gamethread will be up this evening for those who want to chat through the game. You can also follow along with the action through PtR’s Twitter feed.