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Game Preview: Memphis Grizzlies vs. Houston Rockets

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After a long winter's nap, the Memphis Grizzlies are back in action for a post-Christmas showdown with their divisional rival the Houston Rockets. A victory puts them back on track after their first three-game losing streak of the season. A loss? A four-game skid heading into contests with the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs. It's safe to say that a win would be a wonderful cure to the current holiday blues.

Mike Conley will try to push the Grizzlies past Dwight Howard & the Houston Rockets.
Mike Conley will try to push the Grizzlies past Dwight Howard & the Houston Rockets.
Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

2014/15 NBA Season
vs
2014/15:
21-7 (12-3 home)
2014/15:
20-7 (10-2 road)
December 26th, 2014
FedexForum, Memphis, TN
7:00 PM CDT
NBA TV/Fox SportSouth/ 92.9 FM ESPN
Possible Starters
Mike Conley PG Patrick Beverley
Courtney Lee SG James Harden
Tony Allen SF Trevor Ariza
Jon Leuer PF Donatas Motiejunas
Marc Gasol C Dwight Howard
2014/15 Advanced Stats
93.7 (27th) Pace 97.5 (8th)
106.1 (9th) OEff 101.7 (20th)
101.5 (9th) DEff 97.5 (2nd)
49.9 (T-17th) RebR 51.5 (T-4th)

INJURY REPORT:

Memphis- Zach Randolph (Questionable, Knee)

Houston- Dwight Howard (Probable, Shoulder), James Harden (Probable, Hamstring), Patrick Beverley (Questionable, Illness)

For more on the the Houston Rockets, check out SB Nation's The Dream Shake.

First, from all of us here at Grizzly Bear Blues, we wish you and yours a happy holiday season filled with joy, fun, family, and friends. Thank you for checking out the site, and we hope you stick around as we head into 2015.

For the Memphis Grizzlies, 2015 can't come soon enough. December 2014 has been a heck of a month of highs and lows for the Bears of Beale Street, with a two-game losing streak to start the month, followed by a six-game win streak, and now their current three-game losing skid. The loss of Zach Randolph & Tony Allen to injury the past few days has taken its toll, and tired legs surely befell the Grizzlies after a stretch of multiple overtime games. Players out of position and role also have hurt Memphis in their recent losses to Chicago, Cleveland, and Utah.

The Houston Rockets come into Memphis hoping to continue that negative trend for their rivals, surely energized by the recent addition of Josh Smith to the roster. It is unsure as of this writing whether or not Smith will play Friday, but even if he does it will likely be in a minimal role. The Rockets are playing tremendous defensive basketball, are one of the top rebounding teams in the Association, and have already beaten the Grizzlies once this season.

But fear not! For Tony Allen returns for Memphis tonight against the Rockets, and the Grizzlies have also pulled out a win against Houston earlier this year. As the two teams meet in game three of their four-game regular season series, there is plenty on the line for both squads. Playoff seeding will likely be impacted, and if the Grizzlies lose they will be in the midst of their first four-game losing streak of the season. With games against the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs closing out the month, that would not be the best situation to be in.

So, how do Memphis get over their holiday blues, reboot their systems, and find a way to win against the Rockets? Three keys to the game.

A Faster Start for the Starters

The Houston Rockets have one of the better starting lineups in the NBA when healthy, and the eventual addition of Josh Smith as their likely starting power forward will only improve that standing. The last time these two teams met, the Houston starters (minus Dwight Howard and Patrick Beverley) were an average +16.4 on the +/- scale, whereas the Grizzlies' starters (fully healthy) had an average +/- of -17.4. Between the first and third quarters, Memphis was outscored 50-70.

All of this adds up to needing better early performances from your leading men. The Grizzlies' bench will not be able to save Memphis if they fall this far behind this early in this game and in the second half. The energy needed to claw back into games in those situations would also negate the nice break the team had the past few days. Start fast.

Score the Ball From Three, C-Lee

In their last game against the Rockets, the Grizzlies shot 2-13 (15.4%) from the three-point line. That is well below their season average of 35.5%. During their current three-game losing streak, the Grizzlies shot below that average from three against the Bulls (15.4%), Cavaliers (6.3%), and Jazz (30.4%). Memphis is still not as reliant on the three as other teams in the NBA (27th in attempts at 15.7 per game), but when you shoot that low of a percentage it is going to negatively affect the flow of your offense.

The main key to this is Courtney Lee. He went 0-2 from three-point range against the Rockets in their last meeting, and 0-7 against the Jazz Monday night. When Lee is scoring the rock from range, the Grizzlies are that much more dangerous. Look for him to be active early to get into the flow of the contest.

Rebound the Rock

The last time Memphis saw the Rockets, Tarik Black started and led all players with 11 rebounds. It is safe to say he won't hurt the Grizzlies that much this time around, but Houston out-rebounded Memphis 52-39 and is one of the most effective rebounding teams in the NBA. Especially with Zach Randolph questionable for this contest, the Grizzlies must find a way to keep Houston off the glass as much as possible. Limiting them to one-shot possessions by cleaning the defensive glass & gathering multiple offensive rebounds/extra possessions against a top ranked defense should be major goal of the Grizzlies if they hope to walk out of the Grindhouse victorious Friday night.

The Prediction

This game will likely be a lower-scoring affair. Memphis will attempt to control the tempo, swinging the ball and driving to the rim to try to find openings against a Houston defense ranked 2nd in efficiency in the NBA. James Harden will get his as he continues his own MVP campaign, and Josh Smith's possible presence makes this prediction a bit murky. However, Courtney Lee will have a nice double-digit point, multiple made three-point shot bounce back game, and Tony Allen's return to the lineup will lead to a more energetic Grizzlies team taking a 2-1 season series lead over the Rockets.

Memphis 95, Houston 91