These Five Questions Could Determine If The Grizzlies Or Warriors Make The Playoffs

The Golden State Warriors and Memphis Grizzlies will face off in San Francisco on Friday night with the winner getting the No. 8 seed out West and a first round matchup with the Jazz. To get here, Memphis took down the San Antonio Spurs on Wednesday at home, while the Warriors lost to the Lakers in a thriller later that night in Los Angeles.

Now, the two teams face off in a win-or-go-home tilt that looks — on paper, at least — more compelling than the Wizards-Pacers 8-seed battle in the Eastern Conference. To preview the game, our own Sharon Brown and Chris Manning looked at five questions that could decide who ends up taking on Utah.

Given the pieces that the Warriors are missing and the fact that most didn’t expect the Grizzlies to be where they are at this point, which team getting the No. 8 seed is a better story?

Sharon Brown: Both are great stories but I will go with Memphis. They were expected to be at the bottom of the West and have exceeded expectations for the second straight year with a very young team.

It’s the first winning season the team’s had since 2017. They’re in the second year of a rebuild and have a legitimate chance to make the playoffs. It’s a true Hollywood story. Win or lose, this season will be a success for the Grizzlies.

Chris Manning: It might be a hot take but I think it’s the Grizzlies. A Ja Morant-led team beating the Warriors would be a very cool arrival on the scene. It probably leads to them getting obliterated in the first round by the Jazz, but who cares? It gets them a step beyond where they got last year while Morant would pick up the biggest win of his career. That’s a cool story.

What should Memphis do to at least try to slow down Stephen Curry?

Brown: Pray. In all seriousness, Dillon Brooks did a good job of limiting him on Sunday, but once Brooks fouled out, it was all over. The Grizzlies should take a page out of the Lakers’ playbook by double teaming Curry and hoping they can force him into some turnovers. Also, run him off the three-point line and put the onus on the others to defeat them.

Manning: The thing with Curry is that you cannot defend him at all. It’s impossible. I think the move is to have guys — Dillon Brooks, De’Anthony Melton, Desmond Bane, whomever else — draped on him as much as possible while also throwing different looks at him during the game. Mixing in blitzes, try trapping, pull a Nick Nurse and go to a box-and-one if you need to. Curry might drop 50 regardless, but the Grizzlies have to try whatever they can.

Which bench will make a bigger difference?

SB: Simply put, Memphis cannot and will not win this game if there’s not a good performance from its bench. In the regular season, the Grizzlies’ bench was top-10 in the league in scoring among second units. However, at this point, there seems like there are no defined roles in regards to the bench outside of rookie Desmond Bane. In an elimination game, the second unit must step up.

CM: It has to be the Warriors. They have an actual bench whereas the Grizzlies lack a real punch off of theirs. It would not shock me, for instance, if someone like Jordan Poole had a 20-point game and that was the difference in a close game. Memphis has bench pieces I like, but not a scoring punch a la the Warriors.

Given Ja Morant had a poor performance (at least by his standards) during Sunday’s season final against the Warriors, will he bounce back on Wednesday?

SB: Morant must be aggressive from the start and have a better outing against the Warriors. The team can’t afford to wait for him to get going. Memphis needs a breakout performance like last season’s play-in game against the Portland Trail Blazers.

CM: I say yes. There’s nothing in Morant’s track record to me that indicates he’s not up for games like this. It’ll also help that, unlike having to go against Dejounte Murray in the play-in, he’ll be guarded by Curry and other less physically imposing guards. After defeating the Spurs on Wednesday, Morant said the team planned to pack for a three-game road trip. Those are bold words, will he be able to back it up?

Who will be the x-factor for each team?

SB: Andrew Wiggins already dropped 40 on Memphis in March and then had 21 points in the season finale. He seems to love to play against this team. If the Grizzlies can slow down Curry at all, Wiggins must provide a scoring punch for the Warriors to make the playoffs.

For Memphis, Jaren Jackson Jr. is about due for a gigantic game. He is very much capable of doing that. On Wednesday against the Spurs, he started off great but only took six shots in 30 mins of play. Jackson needs more touches and has to be aggressive on both ends of the floor. Taylor Jenkins and company need to get him involved more offensively, because he’ll take advantage of the chances he gets.

CM: It’s obvious, but for the Warriors, it’s Draymond Green. If he dominates on defense, and has success against bigger Memphis lineups, it’ll be a big key in the Warriors favor. It probably means, frankly, that Golden State wins here if Green wins minutes he’s playing at the five.

For Memphis: The answer is De’Anthony Melton. He’s having a really interesting year and he’s probably the best option to defend Curry all over the floor after Dillon Brooks. I want to at least see him try it. Keep an eye on Desmond Bane, too. He was on the floor late against the Spurs and had a key putback late to help win that game.