Opponent: Memphis Grizzlies
Starting Lineup: Tyus Jones – Dillon Brooks – Jae Crowder – Jaren Jackson Jr. – Jonas Valanciunas
Second Unit: DeAnthony Melton– Marko Guduric – Solomon Hill – Bruno Caboclo
Leading Scorer: Jackson (14.9 PPG)
Leading Rebounder: Valanciunas (9.8 RPG)
Leading Assists: Jones (4.7 APG)
Biggest Challenge: Jackson pick-and-pop
The Indiana Pacers typically struggle with transition defense when Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner share the floor, and the Grizzlies love to get out in transition, but it was the pick-and-pop that was the most effective for the Grizzlies last time these teams met. Jackson had one of his best games of the year, finishing with 28 points on 6 three-pointers, and Ja Morant sprinkled in a solid game with 19 points and 10 assists. Morant is out with a hip injury, but Memphis will still run a lot of pick-and-pop with Jones and Jackson. Sabonis is not the best at defending the pick-and-pop, so the team may consider flipping defensive assignments and have Sabonis guard Valanciunas and Turner guard Jackson. However, that pulls Turner away from the rim, who finished with 5 blocks and was clearly effective in that spot against the Grizzlies last time. It will be interesting to see what adjustments are made.
Biggest Advantage: Playmaking outside of Morant
Morant is looking like one of the best up-and-coming playmakers in the NBA. But outside of him? It gets real thin for the Grizzlies, which will make things difficult since he is injured. Jones and Crowder are second and third on the team in assists, and neither of them have ever been touted as primary playmakers. The Pacers need to fluster the Grizzlies ball-handlers early since they will not be used to this much action and take advantage of their lack of playmaking.
The X-Factor: Valanciunas
With all these injuries, the Grizzlies will be looking to feed Valanciunas every chance they get, since he is their most consistent scorer that is healthy. He’ll get a heavy dose of Turner and Sabonis, and expect lot’s of double-teams when he gets the ball in the post since they lack consistent shooting on the perimeter. The Pacers will live with Crowder, Brooks and Jones shooting three-pointers from Valanciunas kick-outs. If they choose to play him straight up, though, then he may be able to keep them in the game with his elite scoring on the block.
This team has young players with some promise. Morant is the frontrunner for Rookie of the Year, Jackson has the versatility to be the next unicorn in the NBA and Brandon Clarke is looking like one of the biggest steals of the draft. It’s too bad two of those three players will not play in this contest, since Clarke will be sidelined along with Morant. Without a real secondary playmaker after Morant, these injuries becomes an even bigger major issue than with most teams. This one might get ugly if the Pacers play halfway decent.