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Memphis Grizzlies vs. Houston Rockets Game Preview, Information, Start Time

The Memphis Grizzlies have won the first two games of their six-game home stand. In order to win game number three, they must find a way to limit the impact of James Harden and his Houston Rockets, who are playing better basketball the past week themselves. The answer may well lie with two men who helped define an era in Memphis, and who are not ready to go out to pasture just yet.

Gasol vs. Howard will be a key match-up in Memphis tonight.
Gasol vs. Howard will be a key match-up in Memphis tonight.
Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

WHO: Memphis Grizzlies (21-18, 13-6 Home) vs. Houston Rockets (19-19, 7-10 Away)

WHERE: FedExForum in Memphis, Tennessee

WHEN: 7:00 PM CT

HOW TO WATCH: Fox Sports Southeast



Memphis: Mike Conley (Achilles)- QUESTIONABLE. Jordan Adams (Knee), Brandan Wright (Knee), Jarell Martin (Foot)- OUT

Houston: Ty Lawson (Suspension), Sam Dekker (Back), Donatas Motiejunas (Back)- OUT

For the Rockets' perspective, be sure to visit The Dream Shake.

Oh, the days dwindle down to a precious few
September, November
And these few precious days I'll spend with you
These precious days I'll spend with you

- "September Song", Frank Sinatra

As the Memphis Grizzlies entered this most crucial home stand, their longest of the season at six games, they were in serious danger of falling below .500, out of the playoffs and in to a tail spin. The identity and desire of the Grizzlies was called in to question here and elsewhere, and the depth and quality of their roster was in doubt. While those concerns certainly are still prevalent after the first two games of their six-game stay at the FedExForum, the effort and heart of a team feared to be destined to go quietly in to the dark night that is basketball history has returned thanks to a couple of familiar faces.

It is fitting that Zach Randolph and Tony Allen are leading the way for Memphis through these difficult days. The two Grizzly veterans have seen their share of good and bad times- in the past year they went from starters and renowned players throughout the NBA for their toughness and tenacity to bench role players as the Grizzlies attempted to shake things up with a new starting lineup. It was fair to bench them both- Tony Allen was making some of the worst choices offensively of his career, while Zach Randolph looked as if he could not defend even the most average of NBA "modern" bigs. All the while, they remained key members of a franchise at large whose last NBA precious days would be spent with the fans who love them most. Even Tony himself said that Grit and Grind may well be ending...

Then, the past five games, a resurgence, a flash of the glory days. Zach Randolph, averaging 19 points and 10 rebounds over that stretch, looking like the "Super Z-Bo" of old grabbing almost ten rebounds a game while shooting the basketball at an interesting clip-

Randolph Last Five Games

While he remains below average at the rim, his jumper is falling, making teams choose to either give up an open shot to the hot hand or come out and defend him, opening the lane for slashers. "Super Z-Bo" has shown up enough recently to make up for losses elsewhere on the roster, and that has been huge for Memphis.

Then there is Tony Allen, looking like the "Grindfather" not just the past five games but since his return from a knee injury earlier in the season, is creating opportunity after opportunity for the offense to score and for the fan base to rejoice as a beloved player rediscovers his swagger-

As Randolph and Allen turn back the clock and prolong their respective battles with Father Time, the Houston Rockets arrive in the Bluff City to try to turn back the Grizzlies. Houston was in disarray just two months ago, leading to the dismissal of Head Coach Kevin McHale. Since then, however, the Rockets have played better basketball and are in the middle of a three-game winning streak. Houston and Memphis should both be very interested in this contest, despite being in the throws of the dog days of January- the Grizzlies have won the first two games of this series so far this season, and if they win game number three tonight they take the season series. For two teams with only a game and a half currently separating them in the Western Conference playoff standings, this could mean a good bit come April when seeding and tiebreakers are decided.

It all points toward about as important as a game as you can have in the second week of January. How does Memphis take a two-win spurt and turn it in to a streak? Three keys-

Gasol vs. Howard

Since the year 2016 got underway, there is only one Memphis Grizzly who has...

  • A. Played in all five games.
  • B. Averaged over 30 minutes a game.
  • C. A negative net rating (-6.1)
Jeff Green? No, he actually has a .3 rating, continuing his run of "meh" play. The previously mentioned Allen and Randolph lead Memphis (+7.8 and +8.1, respectfully) and the three other key players with a negative net rating, Matt Barnes, Courtney Lee, and Mario Chalmers, either haven't played in every game (Barnes/Lee) or haven't averaged 30+ minutes a game (Chalmers).

The answer is Marc Gasol...and is a very unfortunate response for the Grizzlies. Memphis' best player has been anything but in 2016, posting a miserable 29.9% field goal percentage with one of the saddest looking shot charts you will ever see-
Gasol January Shooting

Marc's defense has been fine. His offense has been atrocious.

On the flip side, Dwight Howard has had a monster start to 2016 offensively. Howard, in 40 minutes per game over three games in 2016, has an offensive rating of 105.9 and a true shooting percentage of 60.5%. His defensive numbers are not so good (108 defensive rating) but on offense he has created issues.

So, it will be a match-up of the unstoppable force and the immovable object. Gasol's great defense (95.7 rating the past five games) against Howard offensively. It will also be a chance for Marc to perhaps get going offensively against the struggling defensively Howard. The winner of this individual match-up will go a long way in determining the victor tonight.

Courtney Lee's Impact

The one player with a worse net rating than Marc Gasol, but in only three games instead of five? Courtney Lee, who is performing worse than "Big Spain" offensively (89 offensive rating) and boasts a worse defensive rating (96.1) than Zach Randolph (91.7 in 2016) and Jeff Green (93.2). All of this is less than ideal for a Grizzlies team that is dependent on his floor spacing/creative ability offensively and his athleticism/foot work defensively to stay in front of his man and get over top of picks and screens.

Courtney has missed the past two games with a bruised hip, but told the Memphis Commercial Appeal's Ron Tillery he was going to play tonight. Assuming he does return to the Memphis lineup, he must get off to a fast start on both ends to get the bad taste that was his slow 2016 start out of his mouth.

Keep Houston Off the Free Throw Line and Glass

When looking at Houston's stats in wins and losses, there are a lot of similarities. The Rockets shoot similar percentages and in losses they even attempt more threes than they do in wins. However, there are two stats where the difference is drastic- Free Throw Attempts (32 in wins, 25.6 in losses) and Rebounds (45.5 in wins, 39.9 in losses). The Rockets actually have shot a higher free throw percentage in their losses this season than wins, but because of the difference in attempts Houston makes four less free throws in their defeats than they do in their victories. On the boards, limiting Houston's second chances and getting second chances should be a focus.

If the Grizzlies can win the rebound battle and defend without fouling, they have a chance to take this game.

The Prediction

This, much like Memphis' most recent game against the Boston Celtics, is likely to be a fight to the finish. It is a divisional game after all, and both teams surely know the stakes. The health of Conley and Lee loom large over this contest, and if they are hampered in any major way it will potentially spell doom for Memphis.

That is, if Tony Allen and Zach Randolph don't show up. Recent trends suggest they will indeed play and play well, however, and the Grizzlies will benefit from good games from both of them, as well as a nice bounce back game from a motivated Marc Gasol, on their way to an all-important season series clinching win.

Memphis 98, Houston 95

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