Grizzlies vs. Cavaliers Top Picks for Thursday: Stronger Rim Protection to Help Cleveland Cover

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Jarrett Allen #31 of the Cleveland Cavaliers handles the ball against the Memphis Grizzlies on January 18, 2023. Justin Ford/Getty Images/AFP.

NBA Pick: Cavaliers -4.5 (-110) at Bovada (visit our Bovada Review)

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Cavaliers -4.5 (-110)
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The best sportsbooks have released their NBA odds for tonight’s NBA game between Memphis and Cleveland.

Cleveland enters tonight’s game mired in a pattern whereby it alternates wins and losses. Most recently, the Cavaliers lost a tight one to a strong Miami squad.

Memphis is also coming off a loss, but losing has been the norm lately for the Grizzlies. They have lost six of their last seven games. More so than defense, scoring has been a problem for the Grizzlies. Will Cleveland’s defense permit Memphis to improve offensively?

For reasons that I will explain, you should play both the spread and the total for your NBA picks.

Memphis Grizzlies vs. Cleveland Cavaliers

Thursday, February 02, 2023 – 07:30 PM EST at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse

Cavaliers' Defensive Weakness

Let's consider Cleveland's defensive weakness and then examine whether Memphis has the means on offense to exploit that weakness.

It's far from terrible, especially with forward Dean Wade healthy, but Cleveland's perimeter defense is arguably the weak spot on its defense.

The Cavaliers allow the 12th-most three-pointers per game. They allow this many three-pointers regularly largely because they allow the 10th-highest frequency of open three-point attempts, although they actually do a good job of limiting wide-open three-point attempts.

Personnel-Related Reasons

Given Cleveland's personnel, it should appear obvious that it is no fluke that the stats show that perimeter defense is its defensive weakness.

In particular, guards Donovan Mitchell and Darius Garland are merely 6-1. They lack the height and the length, in general, to contest opposing three-point shooters effectively.

Moreover, they lack a nose for the ball, or, stated differently, fail to possess good defensive instincts in general.

Their weakness in defending the perimeter is responsible for plenty of losses, with one notable example being to an inferior Pacers team that converted an absurd 19 three-point attempts.

What We Should Want

What we should want from Cleveland's opponent is a proclivity to attempt three-pointers and a skill in converting three-point attempts, but Memphis is allergic to making three-pointers. The Grizzlies rank 18th in three-pointers attempted per game and 25th in three-point percentage.

Their ongoing struggles to score - as they have lost six of their last seven games, their team points per game average has dropped significantly - owe to a large extent to the fact that they have struggled more than usual to convert three-point attempts.

In their last three games, they are converting three-point attempts at a league-low 24.3-percent rate.

Bad Shooters

Offensively, Memphis is plagued by bad shooters.

Star point guard Ja Morant is well-known for the lack of threat that he poses behind the arc. This year, he is shooting 31.8% from behind the arc while attempting just over five three-pointers per game. An even higher-volume shooter, teammate Dillon Brooks is less efficient from behind the arc than Morant.

With guys like Morant and Brooks, Memphis lacks the personnel to exploit Cleveland's defensive weakness.

Memphis' Offensive Style

On offense, the Grizzlies prefer to attack the basket. They accumulate the fourth-most field goal attempts per game within five feet of the opponent's basket.

This area of the court is where Morant shines the most: he likes to use his characteristic speed and the momentum that he accrues going downhill to attack the basket. At least because he attempts so many shots, Morant is generally good for 25 or more points per game. But in order for Memphis to end its current rut as a team, Morant is going to have to be efficient tonight, so that his team makes more out of its offensive possessions.

Plus, he'll need help. Guys like Brooks who likewise enjoy attacking the basket will need to step up and perform efficiently within five feet of the basket, the space in which the Grizzlies' offense prefers to thrive.

Cavaliers' weakness: Donovan Mitchell and Darius Garland have been locked in defensively for most of the season, but that just means they have clawed their way up to below-average. Neither has the size to truly impact plays, and they aren’t true ballhawks. Mitchell in particular has had a few highlight blocks, but overall they aren’t the players to check dynamic scoring wings.

Cleveland's Interior Defense

The Grizzlies' offensive outlook tonight is negative because Cleveland boasts a top-level interior defense.

With power forward Evan Mobley and center Jarrett Allen, the Cavaliers possess one of the NBA's top rim-protecting duos.

Stats like opposing field goal percentage at the rim and percentage of shots at the rim blocked indicate the top-level rim protection ranking of Mobley and Allen.

As a team, Cleveland allows the eighth-lowest field goal percentage within five feet of the basket plus the fourth-fewest field goal attempts within five feet of the basket. So, the Cavaliers do not only deter opponents from attempting shots near the basket but Allen and Mobley in particular are great at preventing shot attempts from going in especially in this area of the court.

Cleveland's Offensive Style

On offense, Cleveland resembles Memphis in its reliance on scoring near the basket.

The Cavaliers do most of their damage within nine feet of the basket - they are the second-most efficient team within five feet of the basket and make the seventh most field goals per game from the 5-9 feet range.

Similar to Memphis, they like to use ball screens to get their guards going downhill. Most especially, Darius Garland and Donovan Mitchell like attacking the basket via the dribble drive. Both guards are more versatile than Morant in the sense that each one attempts 39% of his three-pointers.

Their versatility makes them tougher to guard because defenders cannot simply sag off of them in order to protect the basket.

Missing Steven Adams

Memphis is missing a crucial piece, center Steven Adams, to a PCL sprain.

His absence means that the Grizzlies do not have their top rim protector tonight.

Adams' absence has prevented Memphis from being the stout defensive unit that it was in terms of its ability to defend the space within nine feet of its basket.

The Verdict

Expect Cleveland to cover the spread behind stronger rim protection and the better guard play of the more versatile Mitchell and Garland.

Memphis' inability to score efficiently in its preferred space near the basket will align with Cleveland's preexisting tendency to limit the point total and/or efficiency of ball-screen-heavy offenses.

For your best bets, expect a lower-scoring game in addition to a Cavaliers' cover. For Cleveland residents looking to bet on this game, you can check out our top Ohio betting sites.

NBA Pick: Cavaliers -4.5 (-110) at Bovada

NBA Pick: Under 223.5 (-108) at Heritage Sports (visit our Heritage Sports Review)

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Under 223.5 (-108)
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*The line and/or odds on picks in this article might have moved since the content was commissioned. For updated line movements, visit BMR’s free betting odds product.