We continue to compare the Philadelphia 76ers to their competition — now moving to the Western Conference.
If you followed my previous three articles, I looked at how the Philadelphia 76ers matched up against each of their Eastern Conference opponents. I concluded those articles by noting how well the Sixers match up within their conference, and a top-two seed is a reasonable goal.
In the NBA, everyone plays everyone, and the Sixers will play 30 games against the teams in the West, where the competition will be noticeably tougher. We will start our dive into the Western Conference by taking a look at the teams in the Southwest Division.
Since we know the Sixers will play exactly two games against each of these teams, I will offer a record prediction against these divisions. As usual, we will start at the bottom and work our way up.
Memphis Grizzlies Projected Starting Five:
The Grizzlies will be one of the few truly rebuilding teams in the West next year, as they kicked off the offseason by trading point guard Mike Conley to Utah. They did land the second pick in the draft, selecting dynamic point guard Ja Morant. They also added veterans Andre Iguodala and Jae Crowder this summer, although the former will likely be traded or bought out before playing many games in a Grizzlies uniform.
It is hard to project how the Grizzlies will perform next season based on the previous, as their roster is significantly different. The Conley trade signaled the end of the “Grit’N’Grind” era in Memphis, and they could have a very different style in 2019.
The Grizzlies have always stayed competitive on the back of their defense. Even in a down season last year, they finished ninth in the NBA in defensive rating, per NBA.com. Their defense will not be the same with Marc Gasol and Conley out of the picture, . Even towards the end of last season, after Gasol was sent to Toronto, the defense began to slip with Jonas Valanciunas in the lineup.
The Sixers should be able to score on this Grizzlies team. It is rare a rookie guard makes any defensive impact, and the Sixers could attack Morant in the pick-and-roll. Valanciunas is not known for his defensive ability, and Joel Embiid could have his way down low. It would also be wise to force him to guard pick-and-rolls, with Embiid setting a screen for Tobias Harris. The Grizzlies can match the Sixers’ size in one-on-one situations, but if the Sixers are able to move Valanciunas around and force him to guard, they could have the Grizzlies’ defense scrambling.
Offensively, Memphis should improve next season, but those improvements may not come to light against this Sixers unit. The Memphis offense was better with Valanciunas on the court last season, and he has had success against the Sixers in the past, but Embiid and Al Horford should be enough to make it difficult for the Lithuanian.
Josh Richardson will be the primary defender on Morant, and he could give him a nice welcome to the NBA on that end. The rest of Memphis roster will not strike fear into any NBA defenses’ heart, and the Sixers should have no problems matching up.
The Sixers should sweep these two games against the Grizzlies, barring a rest day for some of the starters. The size and talent will be too much for the young Grizzlies to handle.
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