The Grizzlies are sizzling: they’ve won five straight games, most recently beating the star-laden Nets by 14. They covered four of those games. As for the Cavaliers, they ended a three-game skid by beating Indiana. They’re on an 0-4 ATS run. But recent history and team form aren’t everything. For reasons that I will explain, the best way to play this game is by betting the total.
Memphis Grizzlies vs. Cleveland Cavaliers
Tuesday, January 4, 2022- 7:00 PM EST at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse
Memphis' Long List of Absences
COVID is exercising a serious influence on the number of available players at Memphis' disposal tonight. Five different Grizzly players are ruled 'out' as they wait to exit COVID protocols. Arguably the most important absence is that of Dillon Brooks.
Brooks is Memphis' second-leading scorer. He does consistently take a higher amount of the team's three-point attempts and he can be efficient from behind the arc. But Brooks is best known on offense for his ability to put his head down and drive and will his way to the basket. Without him, the Grizzlies lose an important source of scoring.
However, Brooks is arguably most important for his defense. He proved his defensive worth for the nation to see when, for example, he locked down San Antonio's DeMar DeRozan en route to a Grizzly play-in game victory.
That is what Brooks does: he locks down the opponent's top scorer with his hard-nosed on-ball defense. Given his significance to the team's defense, it is critical to evaluate the impact that his absence has on opposing scoring outputs. When there are COVID-induced absences, you might worry that there is insufficient data on which to ground a reasonable bet. But there is plenty of data to guide us.
The "under" has hit in three straight Memphis games, all of which Brooks missed. While the "under" is only 3-2 in Brooks' five recent absences, one of those games went "over" because Memphis was facing an awful Sacramento defense.
In four of Memphis' last five games -- which is played against the Nets, Spurs, Lakers, Suns, and Kings -- the Grizzlies allowed 105 points or fewer, limiting in those four cases the opponent to a scoring total lower than its season average.
Keep these trends in mind for your sports betting because, evidently, the Grizzly defense reliably limits opposing scoring without Brooks in the lineup.
The Cavaliers have improved, relative to other teams, in three-point shooting. Last year, they ranked last in three-point percentage. This year, they rank 12th in the category. But formulating their progression in this way is disingenuous because their three-point percentage improved by less than two percent.
One reason for their overall improvement in three-point efficiency is the jump of Cedi Osman. Osman is converting threes at a 9.1-percent higher rate than he did last year. However, the improved Osman won't be able to contribute to Cleveland's scoring tonight. He did not practice yesterday as he remains in COVID protocols.
Without Osman, Cleveland is all the more plainly one-dimensional on offense as it was last year. As a glance at its minimal improvement in three-point percentage indicates, the Cavaliers are not a strong shooting team.
Cleveland loves to attack the basket especially with its guards Darius Garland and Collin Sexton.
The drive-heavy guards have sorely been missed. Sexton, of course, is out for the season with a meniscus tear.
Garland has been in quarantine. He practiced with his team yesterday, so he should be back.
He drives 15 times per game, easily more than any other Cavalier. But he'll have a hard time attacking the basket as it's protected by Memphis rim protectors and Grizzly helps defenders who explain why Memphis ranks sixth at limiting opposing field goal efficiency within five feet of the basket.
One can tell quite the same story about Memphis. The Grizzlies have not been quite as cold as the Cavs from behind the arc. But the Grizzlies rank 17th in three-point percentage. Their top scorer, Ja Morant, is best known for attacking the rim. He is notorious for being an unreliable shooter.
Given especially Morant's desire to attack inside, Memphis attempts the 10th-most field goals within five feet of the basket. Cleveland, however, by a 1.6-percent margin, owns the best rim protection as measured by its ability to limit opposing field goal percentage within five feet of the basket.
The Cavaliers attach unique value to rim protectors, which is why they drafted Evan Mobley.
With Mobley and Jarrett Allen, the Cavs are well-stocked in this respect. Crucially, both players are healthy and ready to go tonight.
Both teams, out of necessity, really like to attack the basket. But they'll struggle in the face of strong rim protection from the opponent. For the above reasons, expect a low-scoring game for your NBA picks.
*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.