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Game Preview: Memphis Grizzlies vs. Houston Rockets

This will be an early battle of two undefeated Western Conference October heavyweights.

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Houston Rockets Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports

WHO: Memphis Grizzlies (2-0, 0-0 away) @ Houston Rockets (3-0, 1-0 home)

WHERE: Toyota Center in Houston, TX

WHEN: 7:00 PM CT

HOW TO WATCH/LISTEN: Fox Sports Southeast/92.9 FM ESPN Memphis


MEMPHIS- Ben McLemore (Out, Right Foot), Wayne Selden Jr. (Out, Quad), JaMychal Green (Out, Left Ankle)

HOUSTON- Chris Paul (Day-to-Day, Left Knee)

Probable Starters-

MEMPHIS- Mike Conley, Andrew Harrison, James Ennis III, Jarell Martin, Marc Gasol

HOUSTON- James Harden, Eric Gordon, Clint Capela, Trevor Ariza, Ryan Anderson

The Memphis Grizzlies are 2-0, undefeated in the mighty Western Conference after beating Golden State at home Saturday night. The world was shocked. Two Warriors (Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant) were ejected, and Memphis stood strong on defense almost the entire game. But now that we have all celebrated the small (huge) victory early in the season, let’s move on to another Western Conference giant.

OK OK, one more time.

The Houston Rockets are hosting the Grizzlies at home and it has been a strong start for Houston in their own right. They are without a loss this season, also beating the Warriors in a shootout on opening night. After making offseason noise by acquiring Chris Paul, the Rockets have looked eerily similar to the 2016-17 Rockets while enduring Paul’s injury. They shoot threes, a lot of them, no matter if they go in or not.

As we witnessed in the MEM vs. GSW game, the Grizzlies are open to playing an up-tempo style, much to the surprise of opponents and fans alike. Houston enjoys a quick pace as well, with Harden orchestrating the high-powered, long-range scoring machine flawlessly. This team has shot 50 60 threes in a game, and yes, that’s a real stat. But with the speed of Houston also comes a lack of legitimate size to compete with Marc Gasol and the Memphis bigs.

Gasol had one heck of a game versus Golden State, who similarly lacks legitimacy in the front court. If he plays like he did Saturday when he travels to Houston, he could have another dominant performance.

Here are a few things to note for Monday night’s game:

Contain James Harden

NBA: Dallas Mavericks at Houston Rockets Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports

The dude is amazing (MVP candidate?). Through three games he is averaging 27.7/8.7/4.0. Those are scary numbers, especially for an undefeated team: obviously the system of Mike D’Antoni works. He has made a seamless transition to the point guard spot, making D’Antoni look like a freaking genius, but Harden also knows when to pick his spots to take over a game. He is by far the most important cog to the Houston scoring machine.

Of course, defending a player with as many weapons as Harden has is nearly impossible, but there are a few ways to slow him down. He will inevitably look to draw fouls, so Memphis will benefit from playing defense with their feet and body, not their hands. He will look to drive to the hoop, either drawing fouls or kicking the ball for a three point attempt. Memphis bigs will be the key to forcing Harden into tough decisions, Gasol and co. will need to keep him out of the paint without fouling.

Bench Scoring

This seems to be a unanimous key to each game with the Memphis Grizzlies. But perhaps this is the year that the bench actually exists. The Grizz bench outscored the GSW bench 41-18. That is an extremely significant storyline heading into each game this season. Memphis is already down two (potentially starting) players, but to have one of the early leading Rookie of the Year candidates Dillon Brooks immediately contributing is such a great weapon. Brandon Wright looked great against New Orleans on opening night, Tyreke Evans has been a pleasant surprise in transition, and Mario Chalmers seems to have picked up where he left off.

Let’s not forget about Chandler “Chancun” Parsons coming off the bench as well. He is shooting 60% from three so far (and 20% from the free throw line), and giving quality minutes on both ends of the floor. It has been an encouraging season for the Memphis bench overall, and the Houston bench is not anything to get overly excited about (although Nene and P.J. Tucker could cause issues if they get hot). If the Grizz bench plays their role in Monday night’s game, this should be yet another quality win.

Mike Conley being The Conductor

I know we only have two games for a sample size, but Conley’s play was polar opposites in each game. He showed why he is arguably a top-5 point guard in the game versus NOLA, but struggled mightily against GSW. Fortunately, Memphis didn’t need him to be the first option scorer on Saturday night, but any off night for Conley puts another layer of struggle on Memphis. His off game versus GSW is nothing to worry about, a player of Conley’s caliber is given a few off nights each season. Let’s just keep those at a minimum and not bank on Gasol and James Ennis to make up the difference.

NBA: Golden State Warriors at Memphis Grizzlies Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

Conley was able to drop some significant buckets late on Saturday night to lock down the win, so there’s no doubt he will be the go-to option this season. Against Houston, it is unlikely he will start the game guarding James Harden, who is technically the point guard for HOU. But I don’t love the idea of Harrison or Ennis guarding Harden either. Conley may have to take over and conduct the defense by locking up Harden down the stretch. (This is where we need Wayne Selden Jr. the most.) Regardless of his statistical performance, Conley has become the sole emotional leader of this team, that will be just as valuable against Houston.

The Prediction

James Harden is tough to bet against. He is an electric scorer, and if the game is close, he is a scary finisher. But the bench he is playing with is not great, they have very little notable size, and they are not known for playing much defense. They outscored GSW on opening night, which earns an infinite amount of respect already, so you have to keep that in mind when thinking about the final result of this game.

NBA: Preseason-Houston Rockets at Memphis Grizzlies Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

Mike Conley won’t have two bad games in a row, but I am not sure we can count on Marc Gasol having his way again, though he should against the HOU bigs. The Memphis bench will be the most important factor in determining the outcome of this game, and as a long-time Grizz fan, I just can’t count on that.

Overall, this will be a good test for the Grizzlies. If Fizdale wants to play up-tempo, this will be a game to find out if this Memphis team is able to keep up. When playing against a team that lives and dies by the three so exclusively like Houston, you never really know what type numbers their offense can put up. I expect this game to be close, though I worry about the firepower of Houston leaving the Grizzlies behind.

Spread: -7.5 I would take the Grizzlies based on this spread. The game will be close, maybe not a win for Memphis, but within reach in the final minutes.

Prediction: Houston 112, Memphis 106