It’s a new year for the San Antonio Spurs, and a chance to get a fresh start against a Western Conference foe. The Silver and Black will be headed to Graceland for a matchup with the Memphis Grizzlies. The Spurs have lost two straight, their last coming in a blowout against the Boston Celtics. When San Antonio and Memphis met earlier this season, the Spurs jumped out to a 19-point lead but could not hold off the Grizz in a 120-108 loss.
That was before star point guard Ja Morant returned from his suspension. With Morant back, the Grizzlies have looked much better, but still are losers of their last three games. San Antonio has struggled to contain perimeter scorers like Jayson Tatum, Malcolm Brogdon and Damian Lillard in previous outings. They’ll once again be tested by Morant and the Grizzlies.
San Antonio Spurs (5-27) at Memphis Grizzlies (10-22)
January 2, 2024 | 7 PM CT
Watch: BSSW | Listen: WOAI (1200 AM)
Spurs Injuries: Charles Bassey – Out (left knee,) Dominick Barlow – Questionable (G League,) Zach Collins – Out (right ankle,) David Duke Jr. – Out (G League,) Sidy Cissoko – Out (G League,) Mamadi Diakite – Questionable (G League,) Keldon Johnson – Probable (low back)
Grizzlies Injuries: Steven Adams – Out (right knee,) Brandon Clarke – Out (left achilles,) Jacob Gilyard – Out (G League,) GG Jackson – Out (G League,) Jake LaRavia – Out (G League)
What to watch for
Matching up with Morant
The Grizzlies point guard creates a unique matchup problem for the Spurs first five. He’s known for his speed and ability to get to the basket. Morant is averaging 25.2 points and 7.8 assists in his 6 games this season. San Antonio has trouble containing perimeter players, partly due to their inability to defend at the point of attack. They also give up 22.8 points in transition per game. On paper, this is a great matchup for Morant.
The question is who will be tasked with stopping Morant? Jeremy Sochan often gets the toughest defensive matchup, but with the Grizzlies starting Bismack Biyombo and Jaren Jackson Jr., San Antonio will need Sochan to guard one of the bigs along with Victor Wembanyama. Devin Vassell has been improving on the defensive end, and could be a good option. The Grizzlies are the second-worst three point shooting team in the NBA – this could also be a game we see the Spurs run a heavy does of zone defense.
Playing through Wembanyama
Over the last few games, the Spurs have made a concerted effort to find their rookie big man in the paint and in transition. The results have been positive, and given the Spurs a clear offensive identity. Over his last 5 games, Wembanyama is averaging 18 points, 7.6 rebounds and 4.4 assists while shooting 34.8% from deep. He’ll be in for a tough matchup with the Grizzlies front line.
Jackson Jr. and Biyombo are tough paint defenders who will compete with Wemby inside. Still, the Spurs would benefit from a game more tailored to Wembanyama’s skills. His ability to not only generate good looks around the rim, but create opportunities for other with his passing are two of the best weapons San Antonio has. Against an improving Grizzlies defense, the Spurs should unleash those weapons.
Looking at the Spurs lineup data these days isn’t pretty. Yet, one three-man combination rises above the rest. When Tre Jones, Vassell and Wembanyama share the floor together, the Spurs have a +21.9 net rating in 155 minutes. They have an offensive rating of 116.4 and a defensive rating of 94.5. San Antonio should be playing these three together far more often than they currently do. Add in Keldon Johnson and the net rating increases to +23.6. San Antonio’s best five-man lineup is when Sochan is added into that mix, yet they’ve only shared the floor together for 27 minutes.
San Antonio has a real shot of stealing on the road against a struggling Grizzlies squad. An extended look at this lineup could help them get the win in Memphis.