The Washington Wizards (18-32) will host the Memphis Grizzlies (26-26) at Capital One Arena at 6 p.m. on Sunday night. After a rough couple of weeks in the back-end of the Eastern Conference, the Wizards unexpectedly sit in the 9 spot in the East. The Wizards find themselves just one game back in the loss column from the struggling Orlando Magic for the 8 seed, and just 2.5 games back in total. A win would bring the Wizards even closer to a playoff spot.
The Wizards stand at 18-32, and are coming off of a huge 119-118 comeback victory over the Dallas Mavericks on Friday night. Bradley Beal capped off the comeback on a game-winning layup with 0.2 seconds left, on a beautiful pass by Troy Brown Jr., and possibly an even better play call by Scott Brooks.
While the Wizards have shown the ability to win big games this season, they have not been consistent. After giving up two straight games of 150+ points two weeks ago, the Wizards went on a two-game win streak only to lose to the NBA-worst Golden State Warriors at home on Monday. The Wizards have started the month strong, going 3-1 to start February. They have won 5 of their last 10, which is a steady improvement from the start of the season.
While the Wizards have somewhat defied the extremely low expectations put on them this season, the Grizzlies have taken it a step further. The Grizzlies also carry a roster of mostly young guys, much like the Wizards. But, they find themselves holding the 8 spot in the tougher Western Conference at 26-26. Much of that has to do with how well the young talent has performed since the start of the new year. Since January 1, Memphis has gone 13-5. However, they are coming off of a loss to the Philadelphia 76ers on Friday night, and will look to get back into the win column.
What to Watch for
Battle of the Rookies
Both the Wizards and Grizzlies have rookies performing at a high level in Rui Hachimura and Ja Morant. After missing 22 games, Hachimura has played in the past two games on a minutes restriction. He has looked just as aggressive as he did before the injury. On the season, he is averaging an impressive 13.9 PPG and 5.9 RPG on 48.9% FG. He is coming off a solid performance against Kristaps Porzingis and the Mavericks on Friday, with 17 points, 6 rebounds, 2 steals on 7-12 FG, including 2-4 from beyond the arc. He also played a key part in limiting Porzingis to 11 points and 9 rebounds, both by playing better defense, and by attacking him offensively to get him into foul trouble.
While Rui Hachimura has more than exceeded the expectations as the 9th selection in this past year’s draft, the 2nd overall pick has made a case for Rookie of the Year honors. Ja Morant has electrified the Memphis Grizzlies, and helped will the team into the playoff conversation in his first NBA season. In a season they were expected to be in rebuild mode, Ja Morant and the Grizzlies hold a spot over Damian Lillard and the Portland Trailblazers.
Morant has averaged 17.4 PPG, 7.0 APG, 3.4 RPG, on an efficient 49.6%, including 38.3% from distance. If not for the recent hype Zion Williamson has built up, Ja Morant would be the runaway selection for Rookie of the Year. He has been the star player any team selecting second overall could have hoped for, possibly even better than expected already.
This match-up of rookies should be very exciting to watch, though they will rarely guard one another. Not many rookies have been handed the keys to big roles in their organizations already like these two have.
Jerome Robinson Possible Debut
On Friday, we all saw the Wizards’ debut of trade-deadline pickup Shabazz Napier. He thrived in his first game, putting up 14 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals in just 18 minutes. He shot 50%, and hit 4-6 from 3.
While Shabazz really impressed, he was not the main piece for the Wizards at the deadline. Jerome Robinson, a 2018 lottery pick, was. He had to sit out of Friday’s game (NBA paperwork stuff). But he will likely make his Wizards’ debut on Sunday night.
The Wizards had loved Jerome Robinson out of Boston College, and would have likely selected him with the 15th pick in the 2018 draft. Instead, Robinson went 2 picks higher to the Clippers. The Wizards then selected Troy Brown Jr. They now get both of them, as well as Moe Wagner from that draft. They are all young pieces to build around Bradley Beal and John Wall.
Jerome Robinson has somewhat struggled in limited minutes in his first two NBA seasons, but it could be due to the lack of opportunity. The Clippers have been stacked at the guard/wing positions for the past two seasons. This year has been no different with the addition of Paul George and Kawhi Leonard. He likely will get an opportunity off the bench, and maybe even eventually to start, for the Wizards.
Wizards: Thomas Bryant- out
Thomas Bryant experienced a setback with the stress-reaction in his right foot, and missed the last game. He is expected to miss a few more games. I expect the team looks to be cautious, helping him get fully healthy from an injury that has held him back for much of the season.
Grizzlies: Justice Winslow, Grayson Allen- out
The Grizzlies traded Andre Iguodala, who never played a minute for them, and got a pretty solid piece in return in Justice Winslow. Winslow is hurt with a back injury though, and will not make his Grizzlies debut against the Wizards.
Money Lines: Grizzlies: -125/ Wizards: +115