WHERE: Toyota Center in Houston, Texas
WHEN: 6:00 PM CT
HOW TO WATCH: Fox Sports Southeast/92.9 FM ESPN Memphis
MEMPHIS- Chandler Parsons (Out, “Return from injury management”); Garrett Temple (Probable, Groin); Joakim Noah (Probable, Heel)
HOUSTON- Chris Paul (Out, Hamstring); Eric Gordon (Out, Knee)
MEMPHIS- Mike Conley, Garrett Temple, Kyle Anderson, Jaren Jackson Jr, Marc Gasol
HOUSTON- James Harden, Danuel House Jr., P.J. Tucker, Clint Capela, Gerald Green
This New Year’s Eve matchup brings together two teams trending in opposite directions. The Houston Rockets are riding a four game win streak and 9-1 in their last 10 games, while the Memphis Grizzlies are coming off an unsettling loss at home against the Celtics and 3-7 in their last 10 games. Houston has been struck with the injury bug as of late, but nonetheless superstar James Harden has taken on the scoring burden in stride.
There are too many problems surfacing in the Grizzlies franchise to unpack, but the team is clearly struggling to score in the second half and have yet to find a consistent rotation. Bench players have become unreliable and Marc Gasol’s exceptional play has simmered while playing through a likely lingering ankle injury. The Houston matchup will be a classic grit-n-grind type game, especially considering how slow the pace of Houston has been this year.
James Harden has quite literally carried this team back into the playoff hunt. A rough start to the season put the team back further than anyone expected, but his month of December has been nothing short of spectacular. Just to put that in perspective, he is averaging 35.9 points per game, and only three times in December has he scored less than 30 points: twice he scored 29 and once he scored 15. In Houston’s latest four game win streak he has scored, 39-41-45-41 consecutively.
For Memphis to have a chance in this game, they will have to stop Harden; easier said than done. The one criticism of Harden through the last month is that his shot attempts are way up. He is taking around 24 shots a game, a lot for any player, and his efficiency has dropped. Forcing Harden into tough shots and settling for jumpers is the best way to keep his stat line from skyrocketing.
Houston’s other two top scorers will be out Monday, so expect Harden to take over even more than he is already. Memphis will have the opportunity to face a myriad of Houston bench players, not known for their scoring. This could be a perfect game to get back on the winning trail against a perennial Western Conference foe.
Much criticism has been put on Memphis head coach J.B. Bickerstaff for allowing the Grizzlies to blow a 19-point lead against the Celtics on Saturday night. Monday night could be a bounce back game for him and his team, a game against a short-handed Rockets team with an almost-full roster from the Grizzlies.