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Memphis Grizzlies defends league's best record against the Houston Rockets

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The 9-1 Memphis Grizzlies will have their mettle tested against the similarly red-hot Houston Rockets. How good are the Bears of Beale Street really? We will know better after this game.

Howard vs. Gasol is sure to please the faithful in the Grindhouse tonight.
Howard vs. Gasol is sure to please the faithful in the Grindhouse tonight.
Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports
2014/15 NBA Season
9-1 (5-0 home)
9-1 (6-0 road)
November 17, 2014
FedEx Forum, Memphis, TN
7:00 PM CDT
Fox SportSouth/ 92.9 FM ESPN
Possible Starters
Mike Conley PG Patrick Beverley
Courtney Lee SG James Harden
Tony Allen SF Trevor Ariza
Zach Randolph PF Donatas Motiejunas
Marc Gasol C Dwight Howard
2014/15 Advanced Stats
93.5 (25th) Pace 96.9 (9th)
103.5 (17th) OEff 101.7 (20th)
97.3 (4th) DEff 91.5 (1st)
48.4 (24th) RebR 52.4 (T-3rd)

Injury Report-

Houston- Patrick Beverly (Probable, Hamstring) Terrence Jones (Doubtful, Leg)

Memphis- Nick Calathes (Out, Suspension)

For the Rockets' perspective, check out Houston's SB Nation page The Dream Shake.

Let me can't shake the feeling that the Grizzlies are worse than their record indicates? You aren't alone.

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Aside from the usual high-level defensive performance (1st in the NBA in points allowed at 91.3, 4th in defensive efficiency) Memphis is...dare I say... mediocre according to the numbers. 21st in points per game (96.4), 22nd in rebounds per game (40.6), and 20th in assists per game (20), 16th in assist ratio (16.1), and 19th in true shooting percentage (52.7%). 5 of Memphis' 9 wins are by 2 possessions or less, and the combined record of those teams the Grizzlies have defeated is a paltry 33-55.

All the more reason why this next game is that much more interesting. How good are the Grizzlies really? A major test of that comes in the form of James Harden, Dwight Howard, and the Houston Rockets. More than early season bragging rights are on the line; in the loaded Western Conference, every game against a suspected playoff team is huge in regards to seeding and tiebreakers. Game #11 of the 2014-2015 campaign could very well impact the Grizzlies' playoff prospects.

How to be among the first to claim double digit wins in the Association? Three keys...

1. Free Throw Differential

One of the major reasons the Grizzlies have been able to overcome those middle-of-the-road numbers above is their new found ability to get to the charity stripe. Memphis is 10th in the Association in FT attempts at 25.8 per game, and is converting them at a 79.5% rate, good for 9th in the NBA. Compare that to their averages last season (20.3 attempts, 74.1% shooting) and Memphis is scoring 5 more points per game at the line so far. Remember how 5 of those 9 wins are by 2 possessions or less? If Memphis doesn't get to the line so much, the Grizzlies are likely 6-4 or 7-3 instead of 9-1.

Unfortunately for Memphis, the Rockets are better at getting to the line. James Harden (1st in the NBA at 10.5 attempts per game, 90.5% shooting) has turned drawing "contact" into an evil science, and folks foul Dwight Howard (2nd in the NBA at 9.7 attempts per game, 44.8% shooting) because he is so terrible at shooting free throws. Memphis must keep this number close by attacking the rim on offense, defensively moving their feet, not reaching, and, if one of the two has to go to the line 12 or more times, make sure it's Howard.

2. Create Space for the Bigs to Frustrate Howard

The past 2 games, Tayshaun Prince has started instead of Courtney Lee because of "match-up" concerns involving size. Tonight would be a good night to start Lee and Vince Carter because of "spacing" concerns. Houston is dominating defensively right now because of Howard's presence in the paint and Trevor Ariza's wing defense. The fewer the offensive threats on the wing, the less opportunity the Grizzlies will have to convert and keep pace with the offensively superior Rockets. A Lee/Carter combination forces Harden to defend someone more intensely and also allows for Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph to work in the paint. Then rotate Tony Allen and Tayshaun Prince or Quincy Pondexter in so that there is always at least one long range threat on the floor at all times.

If Howard gets into foul trouble early, Houston will struggle to keep pace.

3. Pound Them for 48 Minutes

The Rockets will be coming in to Memphis on the second game of a back to back, so they will not be in their most rested state. James Harden (37.3 minutes per game) and Trevor Ariza (35.5 minutes per game) both get a ton of run for the Rockets, and 10 games into the season, dead legs may be starting to set in. Tony Allen and company must control the pace in terms of physicality and aggression for the entirety of the game. Energy is an area where Memphis should clearly have the advantage, especially at home; the Grizzlies should jump out on Houston early.

The Prediction

This is going to be a challenge. The Rockets are playing phenomenal ball right now, and doing it their way through the free throw and three point lines. Memphis will benefit on this night from the Thunder running with the Rockets the night before. Expect a good game from Courtney Lee, Vince Carter, and Zach Randolph en route to 10-1 and a 19th straight win at home in Memphis.

Memphis 93, Houston 90

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