Free Picks: Utah Jazz vs. Memphis Grizzlies, 2021 Western Conference Playoffs Round 1

Alex Murray
Alex Murray
NBA Free Picks – Best Bets of the Week
Utah Jazz vs Memphis Grizzlies - 2021 NBA Playoffs Round 1
Utah Jazz vs. Memphis Grizzlies, Wednesday, Jazz wins series 4-1

The Memphis Grizzlies made this seem like it could actually be a long series with their grit and no-quit attitude, but really, they didn’t stand a chance against the Utah Jazz at full strength. The Grizzlies won Game 1 as underdogs when the Jazz were without their best and most important player, but once he returned, Memphis was playing from behind for basically four straight games.

Series Results: Jazz wins series 4-1

The Utah Jazz player in question is All-Star Donovan Mitchell, who had missed about 40 days of game action with an ankle issue before returning in Game 2 to lead his squad to four straight wins against a very scrappy Memphis Grizzlies team. While the actual results of the games were never really in question for the final four contests of this series, the Grizzlies kept point spread bettors on the edges of their seats every night.

They would go down 20+ basically every game, only to not throw the towel in and come back with their own little run every time. They would rarely bring it within striking distance, but they would always be hovering around a deficit of 7-12, which is where the point spread always sat for the Jazz in this series.

The Grizzlies have a 36-year-old coach and the second-youngest team with an average age of 24.3, so they have a LOT to be excited about moving forward. I mean, Ja Morant came out and put Gregg Poppovich’s and Steph Curry’s teams to bed in the play-in before even entering the playoffs proper. Dillon Brooks, Jaren Jackson Jr., and Desmond Bane are a few other youngsters that should have Memphis fans looking to the future as a time of prosperity.

Utah, meanwhile, exorcised their playoff demons from 2020 when they gave up a 3-1 lead, eventually losing the series to the Denver Nuggets. No such problem this time around. Mitchell has been a revelation, and he had his best game of the series on Wednesday night, scoring 30 points while dishing a playoff career-high 10 dimes on 69 percent shooting efficiency.

WIth all of the question marks and injury concerns surrounding basically every other team left in the Western Conference bracket, the Jazz would be a very shrewd NBA pick to represent the West in the NBA Finals this season. Those three-point shooters have shown no sign of slowing down yet.

Game 1

May 23, 09:40 p.m., Vivint Arena

Many around the league had probably already penciled in Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors for that eighth seed in the West, but they still had to take on the Grizzlies and win. And that, they did not do. The Grizzlies didn’t get lucky either, they dominated much of the game and led for most of it as well, eventually outlasting the Dubs in overtime once Curry went cold.

Leading the way for Taylor Jenkins’ crew on Friday night was, of course, Ja Morant, the NBA’s reigning Rookie of the Year. Morant put in 35 points, not least of which were the two he got with his patented floater on the second-to-last possession of overtime, which effectively sealed the game for Memphis.

It was a jarring result for many, but surely Morant and company did exactly what they expected to do in the Bay on Friday. Especially considering the fact that they were on the other end of a play-in game last season when they faltered in the bubble and ended up losing the eighth seed to the Portland Trail Blazers in the NBA’s first ever play-in game.

The Grizzlies are coming in off a big, encouraging win, and they will return to the court on Sunday, which means that they will be playing on a regular schedule playing after one day off, a scenario in which they have gone 31-19 against the spread this season, second-best in the NBA, a mark that serves to nudge us towards Memphis for our NBA pick here.

Memphis has also been great on the road and as an underdog this season, posting a 23-14 ATS mark away from Memphis, fourth in the NBA, and a 22-13 ATS mark as a dog, good for second in the association. Put those two together and the Grizz get even better: they were fifth in the league this season with a 14-8 ATS record when entering a game as the road dog.

While the Grizz come into Game 1 of this first round series on a roll and in a good, familiar rhythm, the Jazz will be coming into this one on basically a full week of rest. That’s a positive, in theory, but not always in practice. Rust and rhythm are real things in the NBA, and the Jazz might be expected to show a little of the former and a lack of the latter after such a long layoff.

The Jazz have not done well with those extended absences recently, going 1-5 ATS in their last six games when playing on three or more days of rest. The fact that the Grizzlies own an 8-5 ATS mark when playing with a rest disadvantage this season (eighth in the NBA) only serves to convince us further that the best bet for today is on the Grizzlies and their NBA point spread.

Another point to consider on the Jazz for Sunday night’s tilt is the fact that arguably their two best players, starting guards Mike Conley and Donovan Mitchell, have both been out for extended periods. Conley missed nine games with a right hamstring issue before returning to play limited minutes in Utah’s final two regular season games, which were pretty much meaningless. There was definitely some rust showing for the veteran, and it remains to be seen if he will be playing on a minute limit again.

Mitchell missed the last 16 games of the regular season with a right ankle sprain and will be making his first return to the floor on Sunday, just like Conley, he could very well be playing with a minutes cap. Not to mention the fact that no one knows just how his injured ankle will react to a return to NBA game speed, which simply cannot be replicated.

While we wouldn’t advise going as far as hopping on the Memphis moneyline train for this one, we love their chances to cover a +8.5 point spread which you can find with solid –104NBA odds. The Grizzlies are coming in on a high and playing in a situation in which they’ve thrived all season, Utah will likely win the game, but this young Grizzlies team is full of fighters, which is why we like their spread as our top pick.


Game 2 (Grizzlies leads series 1-0)

May 26, 10:00 p.m., Vivint Arena

The other team was the third-seeded Denver Nuggets, and they came back to even the series convincingly in Game 2 on Monday night. Can the Utah Jazz do the same on Wednesday? We’re leaning towards yes for this NBA pick just because of the pure magnitude of dropping back-to-back home games and going down 2-0 to an eighth seed.

Utah did not look very good for the first three quarters on Sunday night before making a furious comeback in the fourth that ended up falling just short in a 112-109 loss. They actually had a 12-point lead early in the second quarter, but it did not last to the halftime break, and they would never again take the lead for the remainder of the contest.

Early in the fourth frame, they fell behind by 15 with 8:24 left, at which point they went on an extended 27-13 run to pull within one point with seconds remaining. A defensive collapse on an inbounds play with 6.4 seconds remaining sealed the disappointing Game 1 result for Utah, however.

The Memphis Grizzlies backcourt was on fire during this game, with Canadian Dillon Brooks putting on a specifically special performance, putting up a game-high 31 points on 50 percent from the field to go with his usual gritty defensive workload. Ja Morant also showed out, putting up 26 points and relying on his silky floater in the clutch to devastating effect once again.

That was the Dillon Brooks game. Give him credit, he was hooping on Sunday and he stole Game 1 for his team. The odds of getting that kind of outburst from the Canuck again are highly unlikely, which is another reason we like the Jazz for one of our top picks on Wednesday.

The Jazz, meanwhile, shot just 25.5 percent from deep, and considering how heavily they relied on the long ball during the regular season, it was an alarming display. They led the league with 16.7 made triples and were fourth with a 38.9 success rate from deep during the regular season.

But in Game 1, they put up their second-worst three-point shooting night of the season, and the absence of Donovan Mitchell was no doubt a contributing factor. Utah’s best player has missed 17 straight games now, but considering the fact that the team all expected him back for this one until just a few hours before tipoff, it was still a bit of a surprise to see him as a late scratch.

Mitchell was apparently none too pleased with the team’s decision, as he apparently was cleared by his own medical team, according to The Athletic. Mitchell is actually one of the lesser snipers on the Jazz despite his stellar 38.9 shooting percentage from deep this season, with three guys shooting 40+ from beyond the arc and Bojan Bogdanovic—who carried the team in Game 1 with 29 points—shoots it at 39 percent.

The lack of someone to replace Spida’s ability to drive the lane and do damage at the basket to squeeze defenses into the paint paired with Gobert’s absence due to foul trouble meant that Utah’s three-point marksmen were chucking up a lot of bad long bombs on Sunday night. Starting point guard Mike Conley also got into early foul trouble and was sitting on the bench because of it when the Grizz made their biggest run of the game.

Mitchell is confirmed to be in the lineup for Game 2, we’d expect Conley and Gobert to learn from their mistakes and play smarter, and a return to the norm for Utah’s downtown shooters would not be out of the norm, so we like Utah’s NBA point spread as our best bet for today. We’re going with Utah at a -8.5 NBA point spread at decent -116 NBA odds.

Newly minted Sixth Man of the Year Jordan Clarkson was horrific in Game 1 as well, going 5-for-16 from the field, including an 0-for-8 stinker from beyond the arc. Receiving that hardware right after an ugly display like that had to be a strange feeling, so we wouldn’t be surprised to see the best bench player in basketball give us a bounce back game to help with that hefty NBA point spread.


Game 3 (series tied at 1-1)

May 29, 09:30 p.m., FedExForum

(Playoff Betting Record: 13-6, +6.47 Units)

It certainly seems like they have the tools to do just that after we got our first glimpse of their full team during their Game 2 win on Wednesday night. Donovan Mitchell had missed the final 16 contests of the regular season with what looked like a nasty ankle sprain when he sustained the injury back in mid-April.

He was supposedly ready to go for Game 1, but at the last minute, Utah’s medical team stepped in, disagreeing with Mitchell’s own team’s assessment that the two-time All-Star was ready to roll. The team won out, obviously, and Mitchell was forced to sit on the bench as his team dropped Game 1 at home.

There was no way he was going to let that happen a second straight time. Spida came out aggressive in his first action in a month and a half, draining a trio of triples in the first frame, one of which he turned into a four-point play.

The Jazz sharpshooters were seeing a lot more quality looks from the three-point line Game 2 compared with Game 1, and a lot of the credit for that has to go to Mitchell for causing the Memphis defense to collapse into the paint on his forays into the paint.

Mitchell is an excellent finisher at the rim, so when he puts his head down, the Grizzlies take notice on the defensive end, which in turn opens the game up for Utah’s shooters, who defenders now have to sag off of a little bit.

The pick-and-roll action between Rudy Gobert and Mitchell was solid but Mike Conley was utterly deadly. Their connection allowed Gobert to rack up 21 points, most of which came on easy slams after a beautifully executed pick and roll from the veteran Conley.

Memphis head coach Taylor Jenkins will have to figure out a way to combat that pick and roll while continuing to focus on the three-point line and also remaining aware of Spida and his prowess in the paint. It’s a pretty tall task for any coach, but especially so when that coach is 37 in just his second season as a head coach and his team is the second-youngest in the association with an average age of 24.

The Grizzlies were playing no defense in Game 2, allowing 36+ in three of the four quarters while on their way to giving up 141 total points, which was a playoff franchise record for the Jazz. The Grizz have to be heartened by that third-quarter performance when they came roaring back from 20+ down and cut the deficit to just two points during a 43-29 third quarter, though.

They seemed like they might actually have a chance to complete the comeback, especially with Mitchell seemingly benched for the rest of the game after likey meeting his minute limit. But Jazz head coach Quin Snyder made a judgement call, bringing Mitchell back in for a few minutes just to ensure the team maintained their comfy double-digit lead, which is exactly what he did. Mitchell’s effect on Game 2 factored greatly into our decision for our NBA pick for Game 3.

The Grizzlies also shot 54 percent from the field and got 23 from Dillon Brooks and 47 from Ja Morant. While some may view that as a positive for Memphis, I see it another way. Those two guys played about as good as they’re going to play in Game 2, and they still lost by double-digits.

Utah had 19 triples go down for them on Wednesday, and while that seems like a number so high they couldn’t repeat it, they did average just a hair under 17 a game for the regular season, so it really wasn’t even that impressive a performance by their standards. Brooks will also continue to get into foul trouble as he struggles to find a way to stop Spida, who will almost certainly play more than the measly 26 minutes he had on Wednesday.

The Grizzlies are an exciting young team with a lot of fight and a lot of heart, but they’re just not ready to beat a team as well put-together as the Jazz. They simply have too many deadeye shooters surrounding one of the best scorers in the game in Spida, a towering force around the rim in Gobert, and a PNR wizard in Conley. We’re going with an NBA point spread for the Jazz once again here.

With the Grizzlies taking their turn playing at home, the Utah spread has been reduced a few points from Game 2, which is nice to see. It allows us to take a much more reasonable -5.5 NBA point spread for Utah which offers solid –102 NBA odds, making it one of our best bets for today.


Game 4 (Jazz leads series 2-1)

May 31, 09:30 p.m., FedExForum

(Playoff Betting Record: 16-10, +5.34 Units)


If you’re wondering what the big change was between the Memphis Grizzlies upset win in Game 1 and the rest of the series so far, I can give you an answer with just one name: Donovan Mitchell. ‘Spida,’ to be more specific. Mitchell is by far Utah’s best and most important player, and his absence caused glaring issues with a roster that was essentially built around him and center Rudy Gobert.

The magnitude of Mitchell’s importance to this Utah team was fully evident during the stretch run of what was actually a much closer Game 3 than the 121-111 score would suggest. The Jazz went into the final frame on Saturday night leading the underdog Grizzlies by 11 points, but if anything, that has become a comfortable position for Memphis in this series.

They went down 20+ in Game 2, but fought all the way back to cut the deficit to two before Mitchell came back into the game and helped Utah close that one out. It was a very similar scene in Game 3. Memphis went on a quick 8-0 run while Spida was on the bench to start the fourth, six points of which came from Game 1 hero Dillon Brooks, who continues to play excellent ball.

Mitchell came back in at that point, but Memphis still extended that run to 13-2, which left the game tied at 98. The Jazz hit three straight shots after that, but they were all answered in kind by Memphis, and finally, with five minutes remaining in the contest, the Grizzlies took the lead at 109-107. Enter Spida.

First it was an and-one layup, then a 26-foot triple, then a quick Gobert slam, then four more free throws from Mitchell to put the game to bed for good. That kind of mentality where Mitchell can come in and take over a game and score 10 of 12 points to pull away in a tight game late in the fourth is why this team goes from decent to title contender with the third-year pro in the lineup.

If you hadn’t guessed already, we’re leaning towards Utah for our NBA pick once again in Game 4. The Grizzlies have shown the type of grit and grind and no-quit mentality that would have made the original Grit N Grind Grizzlies of a decade ago like Zach Randolph, Tony Allen, Marc Gasol, and Mike Conley very proud, even if the latter now plays for the Jazz.

Despite Mitchell having an ugly shooting night, going 9-for-23 from the field and 2-for-10 from deep, he didn’t let that bother him when he was taking the reins down the stretch in the fourth quarter. And the support from his teammates was huge as well, as Grizzlies legend Conley went nuts from deep, hitting seven of 10 tries from three-point land against his old squad.

While Sixth Man of the Year Jordan Clarkson also struggled and Joe Ingles didn’t do much either, there were several others there to pick up the slack: Bojan Bogdanovic, Georges Niang, and Royce O’Neale combined to go 7-for-12 from downtown on the night. It was especially encouraging considering the fact that O’Neale is not one of their more prolific shooters, instead slotting into the lineup for his defensive acumen more often than not.

If Royce O’Neale is hitting shots like that, there’s just no chance for opposing teams. Rudy Gobert was also a colossus once again, swatting four shots while going 7-for-8 from the field for 15 points to go with 14 boards. Gobert has

done a solid job defending Memphis’ two big guys, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Jonas Valanciunas, who are no slouches on the offensive end.

Memphis even got a rare deadeye shooting display from Grayson Allen off the bench, with the shady reserve going 5-for-8 from deep. It just wasn’t enough, though. Brooks and Morant combined for 55 points again, but this time they were a little less efficient, shooting the rock at a 45 percent clip in Game 3.

Morant and Brooks are special, but they don’t yet have the team around them to make this an interesting series, which is why we like Utah as one of our top picks for this small Monday night slate. Thankfully, the Grizzlies don’t roll over and lose by 20 like some of these other postseason underdogs, so Utah is still getting very reasonable NBA point spreads.

With every passing game, Spida is going to get more comfortable and more in rhythm after having missed about 40 days with that ankle injury, so we appreciate that the Jazz’s spread remains about at the same level as Games 2 and 3. We’re taking a Utah -5.5 NBA point spread at lovely -108 NBA odds as one of our best bets for today.

BET ON UTAH JAZZ -5.5 POINT SPREAD (-108 odds, 22Bet)

Game 5 (Jazz leads series, 3-1)

June 2, 09:30p.m., Vivint Arena

(Playoff Betting Record: 19-13, +5.09 Units)

The Utah Jazz had been without their best and arguably most important player, Donovan Mitchell, for that tight Game 1 loss to the Grizz, and he has made all the difference. He came back in Game 2 and seemingly didn’t miss a beat after having been on the shelf for nearly 40 days with an ankle issue.

He slowed a bit during Game 3, only to take the game over late to put his team over the top and give them the series lead. It was more of the same in Game 4, as Spida put up 30 points on the night, including six crucial free throws to help put the game away in the fourth quarter.

Because once again, the game definitely needed putting away thanks to the never-quit attitude of these energetic and exciting young Grizzlies. Memphis head coach Taylor Jenkins, who is only 36 years old himself, summed it up pretty well after the game, saying that there was no frustration about coming up short in the comeback bids over the past three games, but instead encouragement that they continue to fight even against a colossus like these 2021 Jazz.

The Jazz relied heavily on the three-point shot in the regular season and had great success with it, finishing first in the NBA in triples per game (16.7), three-point attempts per game (43.0), and fourth in three-point percentage (38.9). In the postseason, they have continued that torrid pace, hitting 16.8 threes a game (first), taking 40.8 (first), and draining the long ball at a 41.1 clip (third), numbers that played a large role in the decision on our NBA pick here.

However, some believe that their reliance on the three-ball is not sustainable, and many will point to the James Harden Houston Rockets of the previous few years that relied on downtown success so heavily as an example of why and how it won’t work over the long-term. However, this oft-used comparison is actually wildly irresponsible.

Taking the small-ball 2020 Rockets as an example, we can see that they also led the league in three-pointers made and attempted per game, but while the Jazz were fourth in the league in three-point percentage at nearly 39 percent, the Rockets were 24th in the association in that stat, failing to even scratch 35 percent.

While the Jazz boast three guys shooting that thang at a 40+ clip from deep this season as well as three more shooting it between 38 and 40 percent, the Rockets had just one guy shooting above 36 percent from downtown last year. If your strategy is to jack up 30-40 treys a game, you better have guys that can actually shoot it, and while the small-ball Rockets lacked that, the Jazz have a bevy of efficient long-distance marksmen.

The other reason we love the Jazz to cover a big ol’ spread on Wednesday night as one of our top picks is the fact that while the Grizzlies are getting out to contest the second-most three-point shots per game in the playoffs, 24.8 contests means that about 40 percent of Utah’s 40.8 triple attempts per game are going up uncontested.

The Jazz are not shooting the lights out, at least no by their standards. These performances from beyond the arc are nothing more than another day at the office for Utah head coach Quin Snyder’s deep squad. The Jazz will not hit 50 percent of their triples every game like they did in Game 4, but 40 percent is certainly not out of the question on a nightly basis.

Memphis has shown a ton of heart in responding to each and every run the Jazz have hit them with over the past two games, but I think that they will run out of gas in Game 5. Keeping pace with a juggernaut like the Jazz is no small task, and the fatigue continued to show as Ja Morant and Dillon Brooks both shot under 50 percent from the field again on Sunday.

This is all before mentioning the fact that Utah is back in a 3-1 series lead situation, the same one they were in last year against the Denver Nuggets, who ended up coming back to win in seven games. That will be on Utah’s mind, and they will undoubtedly be focused on exorcising those playoff demons and getting a leg up on their second round opponent.

We like the Jazz to ball out in front of their home crowd and take care of their business in Game 5 this time around. No messing around, no comebacks, no signs of life for Memphis, just a dominant performance from Utah. With that in mind, we like the favorites to cover a -9.5 NBA point spread at solid -110 NBA odds as one of our best bets for today.

BET ON UTAH JAZZ -9.5 POINT SPREAD (-110 odds, 22Bet)

Alex is an alumnus of Ryerson University's RTA Sport Media program, a contributing NHL, NBA, and MLB writer in the team. He has been writing on sports, betting, and fantasy contests for several years, including pitstops as an NFL Editor for theScore and as one of the lead NBA news writers for fantasy sports site FantasyPros. As a lifelong athlete, bettor, and sports fan, Alex is uniquely qualified to help you reach the sports betting success that you've always dreamed of and your wife never believed you could achieve.