Memphis vs Orlando: Making W’s Appear Like Magic

The Memphis Grizzlies (2-5) begin their first back-to-back of the season, as they face the Orlando Magic (2-6) Friday night in Orlando.

Memphis is coming off of a 137-121 win against the Minnesota Timberwolves, while Orlando is coming into the game off a 107-106 loss to the Dallas Mavericks. 

First of all, I’d like to apologize for not getting around to a preview of the Timberwolves game. Keeping in line with recent events in the NBA, let’s just say I was out due to load management. 

Gotta keep those writing chops fresh for the whole year, ya know? 

But in all seriousness, the Grizzlies game against the T’Wolves was a breath of fresh air from a game progression point of view. A game where the score stays fairly close until the Grizzlies pull away for a comfortable 16 point win is a welcome change of pace from what we’ve been seeing throughout the year.

Dillon Brooks was on fire, scoring 31 on 9-16 shooting and 5-7 from three, and has swayed public perception back in his favor after a rough start to the year.

Brandon Clarke was literally perfect from the field (7-7) and is looking like the steal of the 2019 draft. Ja Morant also continued his stellar start to the year, scoring 26 in 26 minutes, and has become only the second player in NBA history to score 20 PPG, have 5 APG, and shoot over 50% from the field through his first 7 games. 

The other? Michael Jordan 

Pretty decent company. 

But from a team perspective, Wednesday’s game showed what can happen when the system put in place combined with the current personnel Memphis has all clicks together.

Letting it fly works a lot better when you shoot 52% from three rather than a number in the teens. But like all games, there are improvements to be made. Memphis still has yet to win a 3rd quarter (Memphis was outscored 32-29 in the 3rd) and Jaren Jackson Jr. had arguably one of the worst games of his career on Wednesday.

Yes, Jaren has been struggling to a degree this season, but he just turned 20 in September and is on his second coach in 2 years. He will get there. We’ve seen what he is and what he can be, we just gotta believe in the progress. 

Memphis will take that win against the T’wolves into their first back to back of the season. For those unfamiliar, a back to back is where a team will play two games in two consecutive days. These can either be two straight home games or, in the Grizzlies case for this particular B2B, two games in two different locations.

Say what you will about the recent crop of “load management” cases cropping up throughout the league (Memphis fans saw this firsthand with Russell Westbrook sitting out the Rockets game vs. Memphis) but one can not deny that depending on travel distance and tip-off times, these stretches can be brutal. Brutal from not only a rest/health perspective, but also for actually having time to evaluate your upcoming opponents and game-plan. 

Memphis begins with a road trip to Orlando to take on a Magic team looking to build off a playoff appearance last season. The Magic are a team that have largely made their name on defense, as they currently are 1 of 2 teams in the league that allow 100 points or less to their opponents (99.8, second only to the Utah Jazz at 96.6).

They are led by former All-Star Center Nikola Vucevic, who currently leads the team in PPG (16.3) and RPG (10.3). Joining Vucevic in the starting lineup are two very solid veterans at their respective positions in Aaron Gordon and Evan Fournier, as well as former number 1 overall pick Markelle Fultz, who is attempting (and succeeding by early season indications) to revive his career after injuries derailed his stint in Philly. He’s averaging 10.3 PPG on 47.9% shooting, 3.3 APG, and has made his case to be put in the starting lineup, earning the starting job last week.

But the X-factor in this starting Magic lineup many believe will be Jonathan Issac. He can be attributed for a lot of the Magic’s defensive accomplishments so far this season, as he alone averages 3 blocks and 1.6 steals per game. Don’t be surprised if he puts the clamps on Memphis’ wings, he’s been doing it to everyone so far this year. 

The rotation features former starting point guard D.J. Augustin, who lost his starting job to the aforementioned Fultz last week. Joining him in the rotation are veteran wing players Terrance Ross (who is doubtful for the game) and Al-Farouq Aminu. Rounding out the rotation is former Rookie of the Year Michael Carter-Williams, and last year’s number 6 overall pick in the NBA Draft Mo Bamba. 

The next couple of days will introduce this young Grizzlies squad to the realities and rigors of the NBA schedule. Could this be where Head Coach Taylor Jenkins’ minutes strategy through the first few games pays off?

Possibly.

But regardless, this stretch is where proper conditioning and taking care of yourself comes into play, and Coach Jenkins has done his best to not mismanage his players.

The next few games could be looked at as a grueling test, but it could also produce the fruit of Jenkins’ labor, and prove that his minutes strategy has some merit. Only time will tell. 

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