When the Memphis Grizzlies traded Mike Conley during the 2019 offseason, they likely did so expecting to go in a different direction. Conley, a veteran nearing the end of his prime, deserved to compete for a championship. At the time, the rebuilding Grizzlies could not reasonably expect to do so. So they dealt him to Utah, where he is currently leading the NBA’s No. 1 overall seed. He likely didn’t imagine that his best chance at a championship would start off against his former team.
But the Grizzlies reloaded faster than anyone could have imagined. They nearly reached the playoffs last season, and now that Ja Morant and his young supporting cast are a year older, they managed to take down Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors in the play-in round to get there this season.
Beating the Warriors is one thing. Aside from Curry, that team was largely undermanned. Beating this loaded Utah roster will be quite another. Conley and the Jazz expect to compete for a championship this season, and that path starts in this series. Here’s everything you need to know ahead of Game 1.
(1) Utah Jazz vs. (8) Memphis GrizzliesDate: Sunday, May 23 | Time: 9:30 p.m. ETLocation: Vivint Arena — Salt Lake City, UtahTV: TNTOdds: MEM +350; UTA -430; O/U 216 (via William Hill Sportsbook)
Featured Game | Utah Jazz vs. Memphis Grizzlies
Jazz: Donovan Mitchell has not played in a game since April 16 due to an ankle injury. He’s expected to suit up for Game 1, but the question is, which version of him are they going to get. If he’s hobbled, Memphis can make this a series. If he’s the player he was in the regular season, this is going to be an easy victory. If he’s as good as he was in the 2020 playoffs, this is a sweep.
Utah succeeded in the regular season thanks in large part to its excellent shooting. If that’s all they have in the playoffs, defenses will counter by switching all screens. One of the keys to beating switches is for star players to attack mismatches. Mitchell is going to have to do that across all four rounds if the Jazz are going to win the championship. If he can’t? Utah is in serious trouble.
Grizzlies: Ja Morant just beat DeMar DeRozan and Stephen Curry on the way to the playoffs. Those are pretty impressive heads for his mantle, but the Jazz are in a different class, and they’re built to shut him down, specifically. Morant shot only 30.3 percent on 3-pointers during the regular season, but made five of his 10 attempts against Golden State. The Jazz are going to leave him open and dare him to try to repeat that performance.
He probably isn’t going to succeed. To compensate, he’ll have to attack the rim as he typically does. Rudy Gobert will be waiting for him there. Even his floater won’t be safe in Gobert’s range. True superstars always find alternative means of scoring. We’ll have a much better sense of where Morant is, and where he’s going to be down the line, when we see how he handles Gobert’s rim protection.
The Jazz are going to win this series, but if the Grizzlies are going to steal a game off of them, it’s going to be now. Aside from Mitchell’s health, the Jazz have been off for a week. Memphis is battle-hardened after two close play-in matchups. That should allow them to keep this game close, which is all they’ll have to do to cover the spread. Grizzlies +8.5