The Memphis Grizzlies have a chance to end their longest winning streak in franchise history when they host the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday.
The Phoenix Suns’ 30-point demolition on Monday extended the Grizzlies streak to 10, and they are now one win away from repeating the 11-game streak from the 2014-15 season that featured Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph in the equaled last season.
In their last 10 games, the Grizzlies have been a juggernaut at both ends of the court, averaging 119.9 points per 100 possessions to earn third place in offensive scoring while also having the best defense in the NBA, which has just 106, 5 allowed.
The team the Grizzlies, meanwhile, overtook to secure the top spot in the defensive rankings was the Cavaliers, who are still in second place this season.
Another key indicator of true contenders is net rating – which measures how much better a team’s offensive rating is compared to their defense – and both teams have excelled in the first half of the season. The Grizzlies are second overall with a 5.8 net rating, while the Cavaliers are third with a 4.7.
Two very similar teams, both the Cavaliers and Grizzlies, use two defensive anchors in their starting lineups and reject the “small ball” roster constructions prevalent in the league.
For the Grizzlies, Steven Adams is arguably the strongest rebounder in the league, while Jaren Jackson Jr. leads the NBA with 3.3 blocks per game. On the Cavaliers side, all-star Jarrett Allen and defensive prodigy Evan Mobley roam the inside.
While these teams are nearly identical defensively, the way they attack offensively, particularly through their star players, could decide their fate.
Grizzlies point guard Ja Morant is without a doubt one of the best guards in league history when it comes to landing on the edge. He’s averaging five goals per game within five feet of the basket — the only guard in the league to do so — while converting at a whopping 61 percent clip.
The problem with this is how well both teams protect the basket, as it raises the question of what happens when an unstoppable force – Morant – meets an immovable object – Allen and Mobley’s rim guard.
On the other hand, the combination of Darius Garland and Donovan Mitchell is a lot more malleable for the Cavaliers when it comes to how they shape their offense.
Notable for his “floater reach” from 5 to 8 yards from the basket, Garland ranks 15th in the league with 1.3 marks per game at an efficient 50 percent, while Mitchell has the long-range attack delivers.
Mitchell averages 3.1 marks per game on deep threes (greater than 25 feet), trailing only the Golden State Warriors’ splash brothers Stephen Curry (3.8) and Klay Thompson (3.2).
It should be a delicious duel between the league’s top two defensive teams, both of whom have all their young stars healthy and ready to bolster their playoff positions.
Cleveland Cavaliers—Jarrett Allen
It’s no secret that Morant is the driving force behind the Grizzlies’ success, and to dominate the games he must control the color.
Allen is the Cavaliers’ primary rim protector and is tasked with preventing Morant from producing more of his highlight reel finishes, and if he can turn Morant into a jump shooter for the night, Cleveland will consider it a big win.
Memphis Grizzlies—Desmond Bane
Desmond Bane is the perfect counterbalance to Morant, providing the Grizzlies with a dynamic shooting threat that keeps the defense in sight at all times.
Across three seasons, Bane owns a paltry career three-point percentage of 43.3. Not only is it a strong number, it’s the seventh best career figure of all time, placing him in the absolute top tier of shooters in today’s game.
If he can hit a few early and force the Cavaliers’ defense to divert some of their attention away from Morant, Bane could open everything up for the Grizzlies’ offense.
KEY BATTLE – Can the Cavaliers figure out how to win on the street?
Heading into this competition, both the Grizzlies (19-3) and Cavaliers (19-4) hold the top three of the NBA’s best home records.
The Grizzlies will have the honor of hosting this season, leaving the Cavs as underdogs as they try to figure out what’s behind their disappointing 9-13 record away from home this season.
HEAD TO HEAD
This will be the first time these two teams have met this season, although the Grizzlies have won each of their last three duels.
The Cavaliers defeated the Grizzlies once during Morant’s rookie season in 2019, but the former Rookie of the Year hasn’t lost to them since.