WHERE: FedExForum in Memphis, Tennessee
WHEN: 7:00PM CT
HOW TO WATCH: NBATV/Fox Sports Southeast/92.9 FM ESPN Memphis
MEMPHIS- Kyle Anderson (Questionable, right foot soreness); Brandon Clarke (Questionable, right thumb soreness); Jae Crowder (Questionable, right hip soreness)
HOUSTON- Russell Westbrook (Out, Rest)
MEMPHIS- Ja Morant, Dillon Brooks, Jae Crowder, Jaren Jackson Jr., Jonas Valanciunas
HOUSTON- Eric Gordon, James Harden, Ben McLemore, P.J. Tucker, Clint Capela
It is something that was never expected this season, but the Grizzlies are riding a five-game winning streak and are currently the eighth seed in the Western Conference. These “Next-Gen” Grizzlies are the real deal, but now they are going to have to deal with teams preparing differently against them. Opposing sides will not be taking them for granted anymore.
Tonight will be a big test for this young team. The Houston Rockets come to town again trying to put an end to this streak. These two teams played back in early November with the Rockets coming out on top 107-100. James Harden lead the Rockets with 44 points and out-dueled Ja Morant, who put up 23 points of his own. It will most likely be a very similar scene tonight with these two looking to put up huge numbers once again. The game in November was not a good indication of this current Grizzlies team. Yes, they had some life, but they did not have the confidence this team will come in with now.
This match-up is a new game though. The Grizzlies will be focused on continuing their win streak, and it will be in front of a national audience on NBATV. People are finally paying attention, and the Grizzlies will be ready to put on another show. Look for a high scoring affair between these two teams.
Here is the one major thing to watch for in this one:
Containing James Harden
Notice the verbiage I use with this. Not “stopping” or “slowing down.” It will be all about containing James Harden, so he does not single-handily take over and beat the Grizzlies himself. This, of course, is much, much easier said than done. Harden has been scorching teams all year long and doing just this. He scores his 30+ or 40+ and is dialed in to win the game down the stretch.
Even with this dominance, there have been a few instances that hopefully Coach Taylor Jenkins can study up on and use tonight. The schemes that have deterred Harden before is a double team shading scheme on him once he touches the ball. It is a concept to throw bodies at Harden basically daring anyone else on the roster to beat him. If someone else does, you just tip your cap. It is not necessarily selling out on a double team, but it is just enough to clamp down when needed.
Even as this seems like naive idea in the NBA, it has to be the number one goal to contain Harden. As mentioned, teams have done this multiple times this year. Coach Mike Malone and the Denver Nuggets were the first team to have such a drastic double team game plan.
These two clips show you the two sides of the equation. Throw bodies at him late and let others beat you, or throw bodies at him while he makes an incredible across-court pass for a corner three. Either clip shows what could happen with this strategy. It is very risky, but it could at least test other players than Harden to score.
If the Grizzlies can execute this, they’ll have the best shot at the victory. Plus, another major part of this game is Russell Westbrook is out for this one. That takes away a huge second option for this team. That means Ben McLemore is going to be their second option. Grizzlies Nation knows the opposing team can feel pretty good if he’s trying to take a game over.
Now this strategy may not be something that is possible all game, but the Grizzlies should implement where possible. If Harden scores around 20, that is a win for the Grizzlies. This will only happen with a defensive change against one of the best scorers in the league. Give a strange look and see what happens next.
All of that being said, I do not see the Grizzlies taking on those defensive risks. Somehow it would find a way to go wrong. However, that is still not to say they are going to get blown out by James Harden. I think this team has the confidence and swagger right now to compete with anyone, and we will see that tonight against the Rockets. The Grizzlies are going to make this a close game all the way through, but I still see Harden having 40+ points again and winning the game for the Rockets.
I still think it will be close so take the Grizzlies plus the points here.
Rockets- 131, Grizzlies- 129