The NBA prefers to celebrate MLK Day by jamming the schedule with as many games as they possibly can. If you’re a basketball bettor, what’s not to like? The first game tips off at noon Eastern Time, while the last game gets started 10 hours later. We’ve got nine games in all scattered throughout the day.
The Memphis Grizzlies are featured on MLK Day every year. Martin Luther King Jr. became synonymous with the city of Memphis as he led the civil rights movement back in the 1950s and 1960s, of course. The Grizzlies play on this holiday every year as a way of honoring his memory. Today, the Grizzlies will play host to the Phoenix Suns in a game that starts at 5 pm ET.
The Grizzlies got Ja Morant back from his ankle sprain before their last game, but they lost center Jonas Valanciunas shortly thereafter. Valanciunas had to enter the NBA’s health protocol over the weekend, which means Memphis will be down one of their most impactful players on Monday afternoon. The Suns, meanwhile, haven’t played in a week after a number of games were postponed as a result of contact tracing.
Phoenix is currently listed as a three-point road favorite in a game with an over/under of 220 points.
Who Fills in for Valanciunas?
Morant’s quicker-than-expected return from an ankle sprain was a big part of the Grizzlies’ win over the 76ers on Saturday night. Morant wound up logging 31 minutes in his first game back, so he is clearly no worse for the wear after missing a couple of weeks of action. However, the absence of Valanciunas in today’s game is a big deal.
Valanciunas has averaged 14.4 points and 10.4 rebounds per game so far this season while supplying solid defense around the rim for Memphis. Without him, Taylor Jenkins will likely have to rely on some combination of Xavier Tillman, Gorgui Dieng, and Brandon Clarke to play Valanciunas’ vacated minutes at center.
Dieng had a decent spell as Valanciunas’ primary backup earlier this season, but Tillman has recently taken over. The rookie out of Michigan State is only averaging about eight points and three rebounds across his seven NBA games, but he did score a season-high 15 points in 28 minutes against Philadelphia the other night. Tillman actually wound up playing 28 minutes in that game, while Valanciunas struggled through 20 lethargic minutes of action.
Based on recent rotations, Tillman seems like the most likely choice to start in Valanciunas’ stead. Jenkins could also go with Clarke, who has been starting recently at power forward in place of the injured Jaren Jackson Jr. Clarke played a lot of center as a rookie last season, but the Grizzlies would have to go ultra-small in this game if they move him over from power forward in this one.
The Grizzlies are off to a middling 6-6 start to the season, but they do enter this game as winners of each of their last four.
The Suns boast a solid record of 7-4 this season, but it’s been quite a while since they’ve played. Phoenix hasn’t set foot on the court since a 128-107 loss in Washington to the Wizards back on January 11. The Suns are one of several teams that has been forced to postpone several games after coming into contact with the Wizards, who have reportedly had as many as six of their players test positive since then.
Phoenix has had a couple of positive tests of their own, but most of their rotation will be intact on Monday night. Dario Saric, Jalen Smith, and Damian Jones are the only Suns slated to miss this game for health purposes. Cam Payne is also questionable with an ankle issue.
Youth and experience coming together. Two All-Stars shining like Suns. Phoenix rising.
Many expected Phoenix to take a step forward this season after the offseason trade for Chris Paul. So far, so good. Devin Booker has been solid as a playmaker over the years, but the acquisition of Paul means Booker can do what he does best: focus on scoring. CP3 is averaging about 13 points and nearly nine assists per game to this point as the primary facilitator of the Suns’ offense, while Booker is Phoenix’ leading scorer.
Booker is averaging 23 points per game, but the team has spread the wealth offensively to this point. Seven Suns average at least 9.9 points per game through the first 11 games of the year. Jae Crowder has proven to be a useful addition on the wing, while Mikal Bridges has really taken a step forward in his third pro season. Bridges is Phoenix’ second-leading scorer (15 points per game) while shooting an excellent 45.3 percent from three-point range.
What’s the Best Bet?
The loss of Valanciunas is a big deal for the Grizzlies. Tillman has played well as J-Val’s backup in recent games, but he’s not nearly as impactful a defender. The 6’8″ Tillman will have his hands full with seven-footer Deandre Ayton on the defensive end, and I’d expect the Suns to exploit that mismatch regularly in this one.
Rust could be a factor for Phoenix after such a long layoff, but I think the small spread in this game is advantageous. I wouldn’t be surprised if the line moved even further in favor of the Suns before tipoff, which is why you should take the chance to bet Suns -3 while you still can. Memphis is a team primed to take a step back this season, while the Suns have looked like a potential contender.
Taylor Smith has been a staff writer with GamblingSites.org since early 2017. Taylor is primarily a sports writer, though he will occasionally dabble in other things like politics and entertainment betting. His primary specialties are writing about the NBA, Major League Baseball, NFL and domestic and international soccer. Fringe sports like golf and horse racing aren’t exactly his cup of tea, bu ...
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