Denver Nuggets (21-15) vs Memphis Grizzlies (17-16)
Friday, March 12, 8:00 p.m. EST
FedEx Forum, Memphis, TN
The Denver Nuggets head to Memphis to take on the Grizzlies. Which team should you take to make the right NBA pick?
The Nuggets are led by Nikola Jokic, who is one of the most consistent performers in the NBA this season. Jokic is currently 3rd favorite to win the MVP this season and that demonstrates his elevation in consistency in leading his team. We can reasonably expect a strong performance from Jokic almost every night so the success of the team is usually dictated by the success of the supporting cast, namely Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr.
Murray has shrugged off a slow start and scored at least 23 points in every game since February 16th. Murray was struggling with an elbow injury but as he is got healthier he has become the strong 2nd scoring option that Denver needs to compete. With Murray finding his form, this Denver team has become quite formidable and starting to resemble the team that made the Western Conference finals last year.
Michael Porter Jr has been less consistent in that time. He averaged 18 pts with Paul Milsap out and seems more suited for the PF position than SF. His rebounding is improved greatly but he still struggling to find teammates as he’s only recorded 5 assists in the last 3 weeks and averages .9 assists per game this season. Porter Jr also has lapses on the defensive end. Although he has the physical tools to be a solid defender, he has yet to put it all together. Denver is going to need Porter Jr to play well if they wish to improve on their Western Conference finals appearance last season.
The Grizzlies are coming off of a 127-112 victory over the Washington Wizards. Center Jonas Valanciunas scored 29 points and grabbed 20 rebounds. Ja Morant added 21 points and 10 assists, and Desmond Bane added 20 points going 5 from 8 from 3 point range. Bane will probably return to the bench as Grayson Allen returns after missing 4 games due to concussion protocol.
The Grizzlies have been a tough team for me to handicap this year as they have been wildly inconsistent. However, they seem to struggle against teams with size and thrive against teams who try to run smaller lineups against them. This will probably be alleviated when Jaren Jackson Jr returns but he has yet to suit up for the Grizzlies this season, and his return is greatly anticipated. Until then, the team relies on Brandon Clarke and Kyle Anderson to soak up the minutes.
Memphis is a team that relies on defense to get in transition get easy buckets. The best way to slow Memphis down is to be efficient on offense. Memphis is currently ranked 7th in defense per 100 possessions by Cleaning the Glass. That defensive success allows Ja Morant to get out in transition, where he does his best work. Morant is excellent at finding teammates and also is a prolific finisher at the rim. When facing Memphis the old adage the best defense is a good offense rings true. Limiting the transition opportunities is a major key to slowing them down.
As with almost every Denver Nuggets game, the key comes down to how will you stop Nikola Jokic. While Jonas Valanciunas is a solid center with good defense, he does not have the defensive quickness or acumen to slow down the MVP caliber center. Jokic should be able to jump-start the offense in the paint as Valanciunas should not be able to cover him 1 on 1. If Memphis chooses to help and double team, Jokic’s passing wizardry will be on display and we shall see a ton of assists from the big man.
Either way, Memphis is in trouble with this matchup. On the opposite end, Jokic needs to make sure he is keeping Valanciunas off the boards. Denver’s biggest weakness is in the defensive rebounding category. If they allow Valanciunas to go crazy with 2nd effort points a lot of their good defensive effort could be wasted. Denver, and Jokic in particular, must be adamant about boxing out and securing the defensive rebound. As we all know a stop is only a stop once the defensive rebound is secured.
My Pick and Pop
The Jokic matchup will be too much for Memphis to overcome which is why I am going to pick Denver -3.5. Denver should be able to run an efficient offense to keep Memphis out of transition and their ancillary players should have an edge over Memphis. While Morant is one of the most dynamic players in the league, this will be a case of him not having the firepower around him to keep up with Denver’s prolific offense. Denver has the tools to be effective even against Memphis’s fantastic defense. I am taking the nuggets to prevail and cover the 3.5 point spread.
NBA Pick: Denver Nuggets -3.5 (-110)