When: Sunday December 29, 8:00 pm EST
Where: FedExForum; Memphis, TN
How to watch: Fox Sports Southeast
The Charlotte Hornets are reeling after losing four straight and tonight face a Memphis Grizzlies team that beat them back in November on a Ja Morant layup with 0.7 seconds left. If Charlotte wants to remain within striking distance of the Eastern Conference playoffs, getting a win in this revenge game now looms large.
When looking at the upcoming schedule, the Hornets need a win tonight. After playing Memphis the Hornets will face a very tough slate with five of their next six games coming against some of the league’s best teams in the Boston Celtics, Dallas Mavericks, Indiana Pacers, Toronto Raptors, and Utah Jazz. The only “easy” game during that stretch is a date with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Getting a win against the Grizzlies feels like a very early must-win game.
Memphis started the year slow but has come on as of late. After starting 6-16 the Grizz have since gone 6-5 over their last 11 games including impressive wins against the Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder.
The Grizzlies are led by a pair of 20-year-old studs in rookie point guard Ja Morant and second-year big man Jaren Jackson, Jr. Memphis invested the second overall pick in the 2019 draft in Morant and he has been phenomenal by averaging nearly 18 points and over six assists per game. Jackson, Jr. has blossomed in his sophomore season by putting up over 17 points and a versatile 2.6 three-pointers (on an impressive 40 percent) and 1.3 blocks per game, but he also struggles with foul trouble and averages 4.1 fouls per game.
In addition to the young studs the Grizzlies also feature center Jonas Valanciunas who averages about 14 points and 10 rebounds per game and plays the type of bully-ball the Hornets struggle to stop. He went for 18 points and 13 rebounds when the teams met back in November. Scoring wing Dillon Brooks (14.3 PPG) is serviceable while forward Jae Crowder always brings tough defense and a solid overall game. The Memphis starting five is a mixture of impressive youngsters and capable though unspectacular veterans.
Charlotte and Memphis are a contrast in style when it comes to pace of play. The Grizzlies like to push the ball and their pace of 103.5 is sixth fastest in the NBA. The Hornets, meanwhile, like to slow things down and Charlotte’s pace of 97.8 in third slowest in the league.
The Hornets should look to limit Memphis’ fast break and transition opportunities, which is no easy task when Ja Morant gets the ball in his hands. When the Hornets and Grizzlies faced each other back in November Morant dropped 23 points and 11 assists. It will be up to Terry Rozier and Devonte’ Graham to slow him down this time around. Charlotte would be wise to challenge Jaren Jackson, Jr. early in the game and see if they can get him in foul trouble in the first quarter.
A win tonight would go a long, long way for a Hornets team that is still competing for a playoff spot. Things are only going to get harder from here.