The Memphis Grizzlies certainly didn’t wish to be in the play-in tournament, but after a rather up-and-down season, they can’t do anything but embrace the pressure that comes with it.
Fortunately for them, they’ll be playing a San Antonio Spurs team that has largely struggles as well this 2020-21. Not even the genius of Coach Gregg Popovich weren’t able to help the Texas juggernauts overcome the tough Western Conference. The Grizzlies finished the regular season as the ninth seed with a 38-34 record–one one game behind the eighth-seeded Golden State Warriors–while the Spurs ended up 10th with a 33-39 slate.
It will be a tough game for the Grizzlies, especially since they will be facing a veteran team headed by a legendary brain who knows how to win in pressure situations. However, there is enough reason (at least three actually) for Memphis to believe that they can move one step closer to their playoff dreams.
3. Grizzlies are play-in tested
The Grizzlies may be young, but don’t let that fool you from thinking the veteran, playoff-tested Spurs have the advantage. After all, it will be the first time San Antonio will be playing in the play-in.
On the other hand, the Grizzlies experienced it first-hand during the 2019-20 season in the Orlando bubble. In fact, they even gave the Portland Trail Blazers a good fight, with Ja Morant exploding for 35 points on top of four rebounds and eight assists.
Memphis knows what it takes and what they need to do, and that should count for something when the going gets tough.
2. Head-to-head advantage; better record
There’s no need to dig deep into the analytics to see why the Grizzlies are more than capable of beating the Spurs. Simply put, they have been the better team in the 2020-21 regular season, and that should show when they meet on Tuesday.
Memphis not only has the better record than the Spurs (who are below .500), they also own the season series against Popovich’s team. In their three meetings in the campaign, the Grizzlies won 2-1. It is worth noting that did not just got lucky and win, as they actually dominated their last two encounters–a 129-112 victory last January 30, and a 133-102 obliteration two days later.
That is more than enough to boost the confidence of the Grizzlies. However, the advantage doesn’t stop there. The Grizzlies are also a way better defensive team than the Spurs, with Memphis ranked seventh in defensive rating and San Antonio 10 spots behind them.
Oh, and did we mention the Grizzlies are statistically a more sound offensive team?
1. It’s not all Ja Morant
Of course, the best players are always the biggest factors in winning games. For the Grizzlies, that’s definitely Morant.
However, the great thing (and often overlooked trait) of the Grizzlies is their depth. They get contributions from several players, with Dillon Brooks and Jonas Valanciunas averaging 17 points apiece. Morant is still the team’s top scorer at 19.1 points per outing, but he doesn’t really have to score a lot since they are a pretty well-balanced team.
In their two wins against the Spurs, it was not Morant who top-scored for the Grizz. It was not even Brooks and Valanciunas! De’Anthony Melton banked 20 points in their January meeting, while Gorgui Deng had a team-high 19 in their third and last showdown in February.
The focus of the Spurs will be on Morant as they try to avoid him from going nuclear, but that could be a big mistake with the talent the Grizzlies roster possess.
Good luck to the Spurs stopping that!