The Memphis Grizzlies will get a chance to tie their longest winning streak in franchise history when they host the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday.
Monday's 30-point demolition of the Phoenix Suns extended the Grizzlies' streak to 10, and they are now one victory away from tying the 11-game streak from the 2014-15 campaign starring Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph, which was matched last season.
Over their last 10 fixtures, the Grizzlies have been a juggernaut on both ends of the court, scoring 119.9 points per 100 possessions to sit third in offensive rating, while also boasting the best defense in the NBA, allowing just 106.5.
Meanwhile, the team the Grizzlies overtook to snatch top spot in the defensive rankings was the Cavaliers, who still sit second for the season.
Another key indicator for the true contenders is net rating – which measures how much better a team's offensive rating is compared to their defense – and both of these sides have excelled through the first half of the season. The Grizzlies sit second overall with a net rating of 5.8, while the Cavaliers are third at 4.7.
Two very similar teams, both the Cavaliers and the Grizzlies utilise two defensive anchors in their starting line-up, leaning away from the more prevalent "small ball" roster constructions seen around the league.
For the Grizzlies, Steven Adams is arguably the strongest rebounder in the league while Jaren Jackson Jr leads the NBA in blocks per game at 3.3. On the Cavaliers' side, All-Star Jarrett Allen and defensive prodigy Evan Mobley roam the interior.
While these sides are almost identical defensively, the way they attack on offense, particularly through their star players, could decide their fate.
EVERY ANGLE OF JA MORANT'S UNBELIEVABLE DUNK OF THE YEAR CANDIDATE pic.twitter.com/8u1j6ZNH3F— NBA (@NBA) January 15, 2023
Grizzlies point guard Ja Morant is, without a doubt, one of the best guards in league history when it comes to finishing at the rim. He is averaging five makes per game within five feet of the basket – the only guard in the league to do so – while converting at a terrific 61 per cent clip.
The problem with that is how well both of these teams protect the basket, as it creates the question of what happens when an unstoppable force – Morant – meets an immovable object – the rim protection of Allen and Mobley.
On the other hand, the combination of Darius Garland and Donovan Mitchell for the Cavaliers are far more malleable with the way they create their offense.
Garland excels in 'floater range' from five-to-nine feet away from the hoop, sitting 15th in the league with 1.3 makes per game at an efficient 50 per cent, while Mitchell provides the long-range assault.
Mitchell is averaging 3.1 makes per game on deep threes (greater than 25 feet), which trails only the Golden State Warriors' Splash Brothers, Stephen Curry (3.8) and Klay Thompson (3.2).
It should be a mouthwatering clash between the league's best two defensive teams, who both have all their young stars healthy and ready to go as they look to strengthen their playoff positions.
Cleveland Cavaliers – Jarrett Allen
It is no secret that Morant is the driving force behind the Grizzlies' success, and for him to dominate games, he needs to control the paint.
Allen is the Cavaliers' primary rim protector and will be tasked with preventing Morant from producing more of his highlight-reel finishes, and if he can turn Morant into a jump-shooter for the night, Cleveland will consider that a massive win.
Memphis Grizzlies – Desmond Bane
Desmond Bane is the perfect counterbalance to Morant, providing the Grizzlies with a dynamic shooting threat who holds the defense's attention at all times.
Through three seasons, Bane owns a ridiculous career three-point percentage of 43.3. It is not just a strong number, it is the seventh-best career figure of all-time, and places him in the absolute top echelon of shooters in today's game.
If he can hit a couple early and force the Cavaliers' defense to divert some of their attention away from Morant, Bane could open up everything for the Grizzlies' offense.
Ja Morant and Desmond Bane combined to lead the Grizzlies to their 10th straight W tonight— NBA (@NBA) January 17, 2023
Ja: 29 PTS, 7 AST, 5 3PM
Bane: 28 PTS, 3 REB, 6 AST pic.twitter.com/9uc306ywO9
KEY BATTLE – Can the Cavaliers figure out how to win on the road?
Heading into this contest, both the Grizzlies (19-3) and the Cavaliers (19-4) sit top-three in the NBA's best home records.
The Grizzlies will get the honour of hosting this time, leaving the Cavs as the underdogs as they try to figure out what is behind their disappointing 9-13 record away from home this campaign.
This will be the first time this season these two teams meet, although the Grizzlies have won each of the past three matchups.
The Cavaliers defeated the Grizzlies once during Morant's rookie season in 2019, but the former Rookie of the Year has not lost to them since.