The Memphis Grizzlies experienced a nightmare of a Game 1. They dropped the opener to the visiting No. 7 seed — but a dangerous No. 7 — LA Lakers. Furthermore, Ja Morant sustained yet another injury, this time hurting his hand on a wild attack to the rim. Now, Memphis Grizzlies odds for Game 2 have swung wildly from the opener, with the home team an early underdog.
With everything seemingly stacked against Memphis, do bettors nonetheless have an opportunity to buy low here? With Game 2 set for Wednesday night, let’s take a look at this NBA playoff matchup.
Grizzlies Odds Due For A Zig-Zag?
Generally speaking in these spots, we see the odds for a Game 2 move toward Memphis. They dropped Game 1, after all, and will surely summon forth their best effort in Game 2 with their season probably on the line. That line of thinking informs “zig-zag theory,” which is basically that NBA playoff teams that lose and/or don’t cover will usually bounce back and cover the following game.
While this betting strategy has lost steam in recent years, one factor may be the market adjusting down the odds in most of these spots. For instance, we saw the Sacramento Kings go off at underdogs in Game 2 after winning Game 1 at home. The zig-zag may be priced in, in other words.
However, the line has moved the opposite way here, with the Lakers now short favorites. Note that they closed +4.5 at most shops for Game 1. Indeed, the influential money backed the Grizzlies, moving the line a point on game day.
That directly reflects the expected impact of Morant’s absence. However, what is the impact of Morant’s absence?
Grizzlies Fine Without Their Star?
While Ja Morant has enjoyed a spectacularly fast rise to stardom, certain stats say he actually has a relatively muted impact on the team’s bottom line. In fact, on/off numbers give mixed reviews.
If one just looks at Morant’s numbers this year, one would find nothing seemingly amiss. A star player with a +6.5 net rating? Nothing to see here.
However, last year the team actually performed better with Morant on the bench. Incredibly, in a season in which the Grizzlies posted a shockingly successful season, Morant had a -1.7 net rating. The team won a ton of games and gave the eventual champion Warriors a real battle in the playoffs with Morant injured.
What changed? Digging deeper, we can see that most of the bump actually came on defense. Morant has long been considered a weak point on that end. Did he suddenly become a lockdown defender?
The answer is probably no and lies is in the fact that Jaren Jackson Jr. grew into the most impactful defensive player — and DPOY award winner — in the league this year. Using Basketball Reference’s two-man lineup data, we can see that about two-thirds of Morant’s minutes this season came with Jackson. That’s likely boosting his perceived impact in the numbers.
Number Of Factors Pointing Memphis’ Way
Ja Morant’s value comes chiefly from his ability to create offense off the dribble. Unlike the Miami Heat, about whom I wrote yesterday after losing Tyler Herro, I think the Grizzlies can replace most of Morant’s shot creation thanks to their deep roster. Desmond Bane has demonstrated increased proficiency in the pick-and-roll, Tyus Jones is one of the most reliable backup point guards in the league, and Jaren Jackson Jr. demonstrated his improving scoring punch in a 13-for-21 Game 1 performance.
Without Morant, the defense likely improves as well.
Furthermore, the Lakers got awesome performances from bit players Austin Reaves and Rui Hachimura, who shot a combined 19-for-27. Those seem unlikely to repeat. I have to say as well that to the eye test, LeBron James’ play since returning from injury looks pretty concerning. He hasn’t been looking like himself and that rates as a serious concern going forward for LA.
Between the numbers and the “soft” factor of the Grizzlies likely performing better with their backs against the wall here, I like a buy after the huge line swing from Game 1.