Now that the calendar has flipped to 2024, it’s hard to say which of these teams is happier to start anew.
The O.G. Anunoby trade — which I think will become “the Quickley trade” in due time — has refreshed a Raptors roster that sorely needed refreshing. A New Year's Day victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers, albeit one that was shorthanded, was welcoming news after the previous game’s historic outcome.
For Memphis, the absence of Ja Morant, who served a 25-game suspension to start the season, was obviously felt in its 6-19 record. However, Morant’s mid-December return led to 4 straight victories and renewed hope that the Grizzlies can climb their way back into the Play-In picture.
Memphis wraps up a 3-game homestand that included a blowout loss to the Sacramento Kings and a comfortable win over the San Antonio Spurs last night. For Toronto, this is the start of its annual (dreaded) west coast road trip. The Raptors will play 6 games over 10 nights, with subsequent games in Sacramento, Golden State, Los Angeles (twice), and Utah.
How to Watch:
TSN at 8:00 p.m. ET
Toronto: Immanuel Quickley, Pascal Siakam, RJ Barrett, Scottie Barnes, Jakob Poeltl
Memphis: Ja Morant, Marcus Smart, Desmond Bane, Jaren Jackson Jr., Bismack Biyombo
Toronto: Christian Koloko (respiratory; out) , Gradey Dick (G-League Assignment)
Memphis: Steven Adams (knee; out), Brandon Clarke
New Year, New You?
This preview is about the Grizzlies but I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out the similarities between this opponent and the Raptors’ next one in Golden State.
Morant’s return from a 25-game suspension meant a lot more than just improved play from the Grizzlies. The hope, at least from Adam Silver, was that Morant learned his lesson, will be on his best behaviour, and, at least, keep things PG-13 while he tries to rehab his image.
The optics of ja morant own employer promoting the flashing of gun hand motions after coming back from a 25 game suspension is insane https://t.co/zFqUdsCDbj— John (@iam_johnw) December 27, 2023
Circling back to the Warriors, Draymond Green is currently serving a suspension that has no end date as he, too, attempts to rehab.....period (not just his image). Let’s hope these former All-Stars can simply be better in 2024!
Naismith Cup Revisited
When the Grizzlies and Raptors entered the league in 1995, an All-Canadian-Team pre-season meeting was also conceived. The appropriately named Naismith Cup was only played 5 times before the Grizzlies were relocated to Memphis. The Raptors won the series 4-1, further feeding Torontonians with centre-of-the-universe delight!
During the regular season, Toronto ended up with a 7-4 record against Vancouver. The Raptors-Grizzlies head-to-head series overall is currently at 28-26 in Toronto’s favour. If my mathing is correct, a Raptors victory tonight would tie the Toronto-Memphis series at 22 apiece.
Toronto has won its last 5 straight visits to Memphis. The last time the Grizzlies defeated the Raptors at home their leading scorer was Marc Gasol. Excuse me while I cry uncontrollably.
What’s in a nickname?
The Grizzlies might have the best collection of nicknames in the NBA. According to Basketball Reference, Memphis can almost field a starting lineup of comic book heroes:
Jaren Jackson Jr - Block Panther
Bismack Biyombo - La Pantera or Black Panther
Steven Adams - Aquaman
Marcus Smart - Wolverine
That doesn’t include Luke Kennard’s nicknames which are both appropriate (Cool Hand Luke) and funny (Duck, which I imagine is because ‘Canard’ is French for duck). John Konchar would be infinitely more interesting if he was universally known as Jitty Konchar. Last but not least, there’s David “Big Body” Roddy.
Slow clap to you, Memphis!