Utah vs Memphis: Round 1, Free Picks, Odds & Predictions

Utah Jazz vs Memphis Grizzlies - 2021 NBA Playoffs Round 1
Utah vs. Memphis, Western Conference Quarterfinals, May 23, Vivint Smart Home Arena

The Utah Jazz were clearly the best team in the Western Conference during the regular season, but the challenge now will be to keep that momentum into the NBA playoffs. They will have to face a very confident Memphis Grizzlies squad that just ousted the Warriors and has now won seven of their last eight games heading into the first round. We’ve seen these confident underdogs give the favorites scares in the past, and this series could be no exception.

Game 1

May 23, 9:30 p.m., Vivint Smart Home Arena

In an untraditional season due to COVID-19, it was refreshing to see a non-powerhouse team like the Utah Jazz top the Western Conference this season. That isn’t to say that Utah isn’t very good or one of the best teams in the NBA, but the Jazz certainly weren’t drawing the same preseason headlines as several of their counterparts in the Western Conference. Utah’s first-round matchup with the Memphis Grizzlies, though, is extremely unique for a traditional series between the first and eighth seeds. The league’s new play-in format means that we will likely see more teams like the Grizzlies in future years, who are able to peak at the right time then head into the NBA playoffs with confidence and momentum. Utah will certainly have its hands full with Memphis in this series.

The Grizzlies began the season losing six of their first eight games, but since then they really weren’t too high or too low, staying within a game or two of .500 the entire year. That was until the calendar turned to May and Memphis knew it needed to play its best basketball. The Grizzlies won five straight games before losing the season finale – and the eighth seed in the play-in tournament – to the Warriors. After gutting out a win over the Spurs in the first play-in game, Memphis led almost from start to finish and survived an overtime clash with Golden State to set up this meeting with the Jazz. Memphis has some excellent young guards in Ja Morant and Dillon Brooks, but the focus of this series is going to be on Jonas Valančiūnas. The big man is a large part of the Grizzles team on both ends of the floor, averaging 17.1 points and 12.5 rebounds per game. However, he’ll have to match up with Rudy Gobert in the paint, and that is a tough assignment for a big man to draw. The good news for Memphis is Valančiūnas is up for the task, having grabbed at least six offensive rebounds in all three matchups with Utah this season and averaged 14.3 total rebounds in Memphis’ three losses within a span of six days to the Jazz.

Gobert is a vital part of the Jazz’s defensive plans, but offensively, it’s the Donovan Mitchell show for Utah. However, it will be interesting to see how Mitchell plays early in the series after missing the final 16 games of the regular season with an ankle injury. When healthy, Mitchell averaged 26.4 points per game and shot 38.6 percent from behind the arc, but Mitchell’s health is still a question mark despite being cleared to play. The Jazz will also have Mike Conley back at nearly full strength after he played reduced minutes in Utah’s final two games while coming back from a nine-game absence of his own. Conley leads the Jazz with six assists per game and his presence helps space the floor a bit better for shooters like Bojan Bogdanović and Jordan Clarkson, who are Utah’s third- and second-leading scorers, respectively. With all of their top players back on the court and mostly healthy, Utah becomes a far more dangerous team to make a run and reach the NBA Finals.

There is a lot to say about Memphis’ run into the playoffs and the grit it showed to reach this point, but the Grizzlies simply look overmatched in this series. Of course, we said that about Memphis against Golden State and the Grizzlies won that game, but that was one game. The consistency required to beat Utah four times leaves little room for letting 10-point leads slip away in the final 3:30 of a game like Memphis did in the play-in win over the Warriors. The Grizzlies are going to play the Jazz tough and make Utah work for its wins, and I think the Grizzlies can push Utah the distance potentially, but I just don’t believe in Memphis to be able to play well enough consistently enough to win the series. I’m going to stop a little short of predicting Memphis extends this series to seven games, and bet the Jazz to win in six games at +450 odds from the top sports betting sites in New Jersey.

It would be naïve to think that travel and fatigue won’t play a part in Game 1 on Sunday for Memphis. The Grizzlies played at Golden State on May 16, traveled home to host the Spurs on Wednesday then flew back to Oakland to face the Warriors on Friday before arriving in Salt Lake City for Sunday’s game. That last leg might not be very long, but the miles can take its toll on professional athletes. Utah has been able to rest at home for a week and the Jazz are healthier now than they were a few weeks ago. The Jazz are nine-point favorites at the New Jersey basketball betting sites, which seems a bit excessive considering two of the three meetings between these two teams were decided by four points or fewer. Both of these teams are riding a lot of momentum into this game and they are built similar enough that the battles should be intense. The top NBA betting sites in New Jersey are misguided in thinking Utah deserves to be this heavy of favorites, so I’ll bet on a single-digit Utah win for +175 odds and also add in Utah winning by five points or fewer for +450 odds and the Jazz winning by 6-10 points at +410 odds. I’m also going to take advantage of the crazy spread to parlay Memphis getting nine points with the over 216 total points for +265 odds.

BET ON UTAH JAZZ TO WIN

Game 2

May 26, 10 p.m., Vivint Smart Home Arena

 

 

Game 3

May 29, TBD, FedEx Forum

 

 

Game 4

May 31, TBD, FedEx Forum

 

 

Game 5

June 2, TBD, Vivint Smart Home Arena

 

Game 6

June 4, TBD, FedEx Forum

 

 

Game 7

June 6, TBD, Vivint Smart Home Arena

 

 

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Josh Walfish is an award-winning journalist who has been covering college and professional sports in the United States. He holds a journalism degree from Northwestern University and his work has appeared in the Miami Herald, Chicago Sun-Times and Providence Journal. He most recently chronicled the UMass hockey teams rise to prominence over the last two years for the local newspaper

All Reviews by Josh Walfish

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