2019-20 NBA Schedule Release: 5 Must-Watch Opponents For The Memphis Grizzlies

Memphis Grizzlies v Minnesota Timberwolves
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On Monday, the 2019-20 NBA schedule was released in full. The Grizzlies will play 12 back-to-backs — just under the league average — with their longest homestand being six games and their longest road trip four games. 

For a team like the Grizzlies, evaluating the schedule is more about identifying games that will offer insights into the team’s young core — i.e. Ja Morant, Jaren Jackson Jr. and the rest — fare against teams and other players that can challenge them. With that in mind, here are five match-ups to circle on your calendar ahead of next season. 

Utah Jazz

When: Friday, Nov. 15 in Memphis; Friday Nov. 29 in Memphis; Saturday, Dec. 7 in Utah; Saturday, March 14 in Utah 

Why this is interesting: For one, Nov. 15 marks Mike Conley’s return to Memphis with his new team. (For those keeping track: Marc Gasol is scheduled to return on March 30 with the Raptors, assuming he’s not traded.) That, in and of itself, is reason enough to watch. 

But because of Conley — still an elite point guard — and Rudy Gobert, Grizzlies-Jazz games should be highly interesting. Conley is a stout defender, so he’s going to give Morant a harsh introduction into what it’s like to play point guard in the NBA. How he fares as the season goes on will tell us something about Morant’s rookie year, especially when the teams play in March. And when he gets inside, Morant is going to have to contend with Rudy Gobert.

Gobert also matters against Jaren Jackson Jr. The who figure to guard one another and if Jackson Jr. can do well in his matchups against Gobert, it’ll showcase some offensive development in year two. Per nba.com, Jackson Jr. shot 45.5% in 18.7 minutes on the floor vs. Gobert last year. But that said, there were definitely moments where Jackson Jr. had his way with Gobert and handled the best defensive big in the league. What that showdown looks like in year two for Jackson Jr. will be fascinating. 

Atlanta Hawks

When: Monday, March 2 in Atlanta; Saturday, March 7 in Memphis

Why this is interesting: Ja Morant vs. Trae Young, aka two of the five biggest stars to come out of college basketball the last few years? Check. Considering that neither player is particularly good on defense, their respective offensive games should be on full display. Throw in some Jackson Jr. minutes vs. John Collins and you’ve got a winner. 

These are two of the more interesting young cores in the league. Why not watch, especially since it’ll only happen twice?

Sacramento Kings

When: Saturday, Dec. 21 in Memphis; Thursday, Jan. 2 in Sacramento; Thursday, Feb. 20 in Sacramento; Friday, Feb. 28 in Memphis 

Why this is interesting: At Team USA’s pre-World Cup camp, Marvin Bagley III apparently was better in the eyes of coaches and was in contention for one of the 12 roster spots going to China. Jackson Jr., on paper at least, would appear to have a better long-term future with Team USA based on his defensive upside alone. Seeing how the two players look head-to-head in year two of their respective careers, especially coming off of this summer, should be interesting. 

Plus, any Grizzlies-Kings games features Morant defending De’Aaron Fox — an ascending star at maybe the league's deepest position — and having to deal with maybe the fastest player in the league. Even if he struggles on defense, it’ll be interesting to see if Morant can break down Fox on the other end. Lost in how good he is on offense is that Fox is a pretty good defender.

Denver Nuggets

When: Sunday, Nov. 17 in Memphis; Saturday, Dec. 28 in Denver; Tuesday, Jan. 28 in Memphis; Tuesday, April 7 in Denver 

Why this is interesting: There is probably not a tougher center in the league to cover right now than Nikola Jokic. And everything the Nuggets do goes through him. In theory, to stop Denver, you have to stop Jokic. Even if he’s not at that defensive level just yet, Jackson Jr. fits the profile of defender who should be able to give Jokic some problems, or at least make his life harder than it should be. 

This is also an interesting game for Morant. For one, how does he defend against Jamal Murray and handle the atypical pick-and-rolls the Nuggets use with Murray as the screener? For the 6’3” Morant, this is the first test in finding out how he’ll hold up against screens, navigating complex actions and being put in some uncomfortable defensive positions that could happen down the line if/when the Grizzlies make a deep postseason run. It'd also be interesting to see how he'd handle Gary Harris being put on him as opposed to Murray.

Houston Rockets

When: Monday, Nov. 4 in Memphis; Tuesday, Jan. 14 in Memphis; Wednesday, Feb. 26 in Houston; Wednesday, April 15 in Houston

Why this is interesting: The Rockets, whatever they end up looking like, are going to be a fascinating team for any one to game plan for. James Harden on his own is that  and it might get even weirder now that Russell Westbrook is his backcourt mate. Even if he ends up attacking a lot in isolation a la Chris Paul, it’s good to work differently. 

At the very least, Memphis-Houston games will see Morant having to deal with Westbrook’s relentless drives and maybe spend some time trying to defend Harden one-on-one in space. There’s also the intrigue of seeing how Jackson Jr. defends Harden on switches. Per nba.com, Jackson only directly defended Harden twice. And when either Westbrook and Harden run a pick-and-roll with Clint Capela, it’ll might be up in Jackson Jr. to disrupt the attack depending on what lineups new Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins roles out.

At the very least, it’s a good learning experience for the Grizzlies. 

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On Monday, the 2019-20 NBA schedule was released in full. The Grizzlies will play 12 back-to-backs — just under the league average — with their longest homestand being six games and their longest road trip four games. 

For a team like the Grizzlies, evaluating the schedule is more about identifying games that will offer insights into the team’s young core — i.e. Ja Morant, Jaren Jackson Jr. and the rest — fare against teams and other players that can challenge them. With that in mind, here are five match-ups to circle on your calendar ahead of next season. 

Utah Jazz

When: Friday, Nov. 15 in Memphis; Friday Nov. 29 in Memphis; Saturday, Dec. 7 in Utah; Saturday, March 14 in Utah 

Why this is interesting: For one, Nov. 15 marks Mike Conley’s return to Memphis with his new team. (For those keeping track: Marc Gasol is scheduled to return on March 30 with the Raptors, assuming he’s not traded.) That, in and of itself, is reason enough to watch. 

But because of Conley — still an elite point guard — and Rudy Gobert, Grizzlies-Jazz games should be highly interesting. Conley is a stout defender, so he’s going to give Morant a harsh introduction into what it’s like to play point guard in the NBA. How he fares as the season goes on will tell us something about Morant’s rookie year, especially when the teams play in March. And when he gets inside, Morant is going to have to contend with Rudy Gobert.

Gobert also matters against Jaren Jackson Jr. The who figure to guard one another and if Jackson Jr. can do well in his matchups against Gobert, it’ll showcase some offensive development in year two. Per nba.com, Jackson Jr. shot 45.5% in 18.7 minutes on the floor vs. Gobert last year. But that said, there were definitely moments where Jackson Jr. had his way with Gobert and handled the best defensive big in the league. What that showdown looks like in year two for Jackson Jr. will be fascinating. 

Atlanta Hawks

When: Monday, March 2 in Atlanta; Saturday, March 7 in Memphis

Why this is interesting: Ja Morant vs. Trae Young, aka two of the five biggest stars to come out of college basketball the last few years? Check. Considering that neither player is particularly good on defense, their respective offensive games should be on full display. Throw in some Jackson Jr. minutes vs. John Collins and you’ve got a winner. 

These are two of the more interesting young cores in the league. Why not watch, especially since it’ll only happen twice?

Sacramento Kings

When: Saturday, Dec. 21 in Memphis; Thursday, Jan. 2 in Sacramento; Thursday, Feb. 20 in Sacramento; Friday, Feb. 28 in Memphis 

Why this is interesting: At Team USA’s pre-World Cup camp, Marvin Bagley III apparently was better in the eyes of coaches and was in contention for one of the 12 roster spots going to China. Jackson Jr., on paper at least, would appear to have a better long-term future with Team USA based on his defensive upside alone. Seeing how the two players look head-to-head in year two of their respective careers, especially coming off of this summer, should be interesting. 

Plus, any Grizzlies-Kings games features Morant defending De’Aaron Fox — an ascending star at maybe the league's deepest position — and having to deal with maybe the fastest player in the league. Even if he struggles on defense, it’ll be interesting to see if Morant can break down Fox on the other end. Lost in how good he is on offense is that Fox is a pretty good defender.

Denver Nuggets

When: Sunday, Nov. 17 in Memphis; Saturday, Dec. 28 in Denver; Tuesday, Jan. 28 in Memphis; Tuesday, April 7 in Denver 

Why this is interesting: There is probably not a tougher center in the league to cover right now than Nikola Jokic. And everything the Nuggets do goes through him. In theory, to stop Denver, you have to stop Jokic. Even if he’s not at that defensive level just yet, Jackson Jr. fits the profile of defender who should be able to give Jokic some problems, or at least make his life harder than it should be. 

This is also an interesting game for Morant. For one, how does he defend against Jamal Murray and handle the atypical pick-and-rolls the Nuggets use with Murray as the screener? For the 6’3” Morant, this is the first test in finding out how he’ll hold up against screens, navigating complex actions and being put in some uncomfortable defensive positions that could happen down the line if/when the Grizzlies make a deep postseason run. It'd also be interesting to see how he'd handle Gary Harris being put on him as opposed to Murray.

Houston Rockets

When: Monday, Nov. 4 in Memphis; Tuesday, Jan. 14 in Memphis; Wednesday, Feb. 26 in Houston; Wednesday, April 15 in Houston

Why this is interesting: The Rockets, whatever they end up looking like, are going to be a fascinating team for any one to game plan for. James Harden on his own is that  and it might get even weirder now that Russell Westbrook is his backcourt mate. Even if he ends up attacking a lot in isolation a la Chris Paul, it’s good to work differently. 

At the very least, Memphis-Houston games will see Morant having to deal with Westbrook’s relentless drives and maybe spend some time trying to defend Harden one-on-one in space. There’s also the intrigue of seeing how Jackson Jr. defends Harden on switches. Per nba.com, Jackson only directly defended Harden twice. And when either Westbrook and Harden run a pick-and-roll with Clint Capela, it’ll might be up in Jackson Jr. to disrupt the attack depending on what lineups new Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins roles out.

At the very least, it’s a good learning experience for the Grizzlies. 

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I cover the Grizzlies, NBA and Browns for Forbes in addition to running SB Nation's Fear the Sword and having past bylines appear at VICE Sports, FanSided, Cleveland Ma

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