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Game Preview: Memphis Grizzlies vs. Houston Rockets

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Can the Grizzlies take down the Rockets for the second time this week?

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Houston Rockets Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

WHO: Memphis Grizzlies (4-1, 3-0 home) vs. Houston Rockets (5-1, 4-0 away)

WHEN: 7:00 PM CT

WHERE: FedExForum in Memphis, Tennessee

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

Injury Report:

Memphis - JaMychal Green (Out- Ankle), Ben McLemore (Out- Foot), Wayne Selden (Out- Quad)

Houston - Nene Hilario (Out- Achilles), Trevor Ariza (Out- Foot), Chris Paul (Out- Knee), Tarik Black (Probable- Hip)

PROJECTED STARTERS:

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

Houston - James Harden, Eric Gordon, Luc Mbah a Moute, Ryan Anderson, Clint Capela


Well, here we go again.

If you feel like the Grizzlies have been playing the same teams over and over again this week, you’re not wrong. After an electric comeback win in Houston earlier this week, the Grizz get another crack at the Rockets, this time in the friendly confines of FedEx Forum.

Since the last Grizzlies-Rockets matchup, Memphis went 1-1 in a midweek back to back matchup against the Dallas Mavericks. In both games, the Grizzlies unfortunately played down to the level of the competition. As most Grizzly fans know, this is a common theme year in, year out. The Grizzlies always fight with the best of the best, but drop unnecessary games against inferior competition. The energy level of the whole team, and most notably the bench, was not close to the level that it was at in the first three games of the season.

Tonight’s game is most definitely a “statement game.” It’s a chance to prove that the early season wins against the Warriors and Rockets weren’t a fluke. It’s a chance to really instill confidence in the players that this team has a shot to be really good this year. With Marc Gasol playing as well as he ever has in his career (he’s 33 years old, why is this happening?), and Mike Conley living up to his nickname, “Captain Clutch,” this team can compete with the best in the west.

Here are a few things to watch for in tonight’s matchup.

The Bench

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Houston Rockets Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

This second unit has been the talk of the town so far this season, and for good reason. They provide the Grizzlies with so much more than the bench from last year, which gave up lead after lead last season. It has been established that they are imperative to the Grizzlies’ success this year, but they play an especially important role against high octane offenses like the Rockets.

The Grizzlies will try to slow the Rockets down, much like they did on Monday night. However, it is really tough to slow down a James Harden run offense for an entire game. I am assuming that the Rockets will put up more points than they did Monday, because, well, they just usually do. Even if slowing the tempo down is affective, the Rockets will go on runs. The Grizzlies need to be able to put the ball in the basket at a good rate to fight those runs off. Andrew Harrison, James Ennis, and Jarell Martin are not guys that can consistently create offense for themselves or others.

Until more polished scorers like JaMychal Green and Ben McLemore (more polished, definitely not polished) arrive, guys like Tyreke Evans, Mario Chalmers, and Dillon Brooks need to pickup some of the scoring load. They have shown that they can all individually get hot and score the ball, and there will be situations where they are needed to do just that.

Marc Gasol

So, why aren’t more people talking about Marc Gasol? His start to this season has been unbelievable. Pundits assumed his numbers and performance would dip a little bit from last season, but he has shown no signs of that happening.

On the contrary, Big Spain is putting up stat lines consistently that used to never really come around.

This new emphasis on rebounding, along with him anchoring the defense makes it seem like he is aging in reverse. It is hard to know if these types of outings are sustainable, but lets keep enjoying them as they come.

But enough Marc Gasol fan-boying, why does he matter so much tonight?

His effort defensively is so important against the Rockets. Having to chase Clint Capella around from ball screen to ball screen, giving the guard a hedge and retreating back into the paint to prevent the lob as well as contesting and affecting shots at the rim is exhausting, but it’s really, really important if you want to string together stops against the Rockets. Lets hope to see Marc extremely engaged and active on the defensive end tonight, because when he is, it helps the Grizzlies immensely.

The Prediction

NBA: Dallas Mavericks at Memphis Grizzlies Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

This is going to be a hard fought game. The Grizzlies seemed to rub the Rockets the wrong way on Monday (I’m looking at you, Rio), and that usually means that there is more incentive for the opposition to give their all. Harden is coming off of a triple double against Charlotte last night in a comfortable win, so he will be coming into the game with a lot of confidence.

A big factor for this game is the fact that the Grizzlies have had a day of rest to get ready physically and mentally for this game. The Rockets, on the other hand will be playing for the second night in a row, on the third game of a road trip. It also doesn’t help Houston that Trevor Ariza and Nene, two valuable contributors, are out with injuries tonight. All of these factors are favorable for the Grizzlies.

The Rockets are still deep and talented, and if Harden and his streaky supporting cast (Eric Gordon, Ryan Anderson, etc.) catch fire, they are almost impossible to beat. However, I think fatigue, injury, and solid defense from the Grizzlies will keep this game very close.

And how could I ever bet against Mike Conley in the 4th? Grizzlies in a nail-biter.

SCORE PREDICTION - Memphis 107, Houston 104