Tonight, hot off “The Andre Drummond Game” against the blatantly tanking Spurs on Monday, our 26-27 Chicago Bulls will play one of the best teams in the league, the Memphis Grizzlies, led by All-Stars Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson.
At 32-21, Memphis currently occupies the second seed in the West. But zooming in a little closer, it seems like there’s been some trouble in paradise. The Grizz have gone 2-8 across their last 10 games, and are mired in a three-game losing streak, having dropped games to a pair of sub-.500 teams (the Trail Blazers and the Raptors), as well as the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The Grizzlies have “grown” into being one of the league’s chief irritants, a scrappy, young, athletic bunch who takes pride in their effort on both sides of the ball, often to a fault. Dillon Brooks, who apparently has never met a Hall of Fame tight end or a groin he hasn’t wanted to punch, is probably the only Grizzlies player that crosses over from fun wing enforcer to actual annoying jerk who intentionally harms players and whose disruptive behavior detracts from the activity on the floor. Obviously, with the trade deadline near, one wonders if Memphis will throw its hat in the ring for the latest belle of the ball, current Toronto Raptors wing OG Anunoby.
Aside from Grizzlies center Steven Adams, who at 29 is the oldest player on the club aside from Danny Green’s Expiring Contract, Memphis seems to be one solid calming veteran presence short of true title contention. The 35-year-old Green, who has won three titles while starting for three different franchises, has missed most of the season while recovering from ACL and LCL surgeries, and has yet to log major minutes for Memphis in his two healthy games thus far. 2020 Danny Green could have been a good fit for the club, but the 2023 vintage is looking pretty washed up.
Despite getting a bit chippier both on and off the floor, Morant is in the midst of his second straight All-Star game, having emerged as one of the league’s most explosive young guards, especially as a slasher and passer. Conversely, Jackson is slowly becoming a major player for the league’s Defensive Player of the Year honors, thanks to his mobile, fundamentally sound impact. Former TCU sharpshooter Desmond Bane, though undersized at the two spot, has taken a big leap as a shooting.
The Bulls, playing on the second night of a back-to-back pair of road bouts, will have their work cut out for them, whether or not the Grizz have been slumping of late. Last week, as you’ll no doubt recall, we “helped” the Indiana Pacers end a 10-game losing streak. Then again, we’ve also beaten some of the NBA’s best clubs. So it’s hard to know what to expect.
The Grizzlies have recently had an issue with building up big leads and then choking them away, a habit the Bulls have been trying to curb themselves.
As usual, Chicago will need some extra help from beyond its “Big Three” of DeMar DeRozan, Zach LaVine and Nikola Vucevic. Second-year combo guard Ayo Dosunmu needs to keep up his encouraging recent two-way play — he’s been hyper-efficient on offense, averaging 14 points on 71% shooting across his past four games. Developing power forward Patrick Williams has finally started to put it together defensively, though he remains somewhat hesitant when looking to score.
To actually win at FedEx Forum tonight (where the Grizzlies are 21-5 this season so far), the Bulls will need to figure out how to contain Morant and muck up his driving and passing lanes when possible. Vucevic, coming off a big night in San Antonio (he scored 22 points and grabbed 12 rebounds in just 23:35), may want to make exploit the absence of Adams (see below) by looking to get his in the paint early and often.
DeMar DeRozan was a gameday addition to the injury report as questionable with a sore hip. Alex Caruso remains questionable after missing the last couple games. Patrick Williams is still on the injury report as probable even though he played yesterday.
For the Grizzlies, Adams is the lone important absence. Presumably Brandon Clarke will start in his stead.
Game Time: 7 p.m. central, NBC Sports Chicago