WHO: Memphis Grizzlies (28-29, 12-16 away) vs. Houston Rockets (37-20, 20-8 home)
WHEN: 7:00 PM CST
WHERE: Toyota Center - Houston, TX
HOW TO WATCH/LISTEN: ESPN/Fox Sports Southeast/92.9 FM ESPN Memphis
MEMPHIS: Jaren Jackson Jr. (out, knee), Justise Winslow (out, back), Grayson Allen (out, hip), Brandon Clarke (out, quad)
Houston: Eric Gordon (knee, questionable)
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUPS:
MEMPHIS: Ja Morant, De’Anthony Melton, Dillon Brooks, Kyle Anderson, Jonas Valanciunas
Houston: Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Danuel House Jr., Robert Covington, PJ Tucker
There was every reason to be optimistic coming out of the All-Star break. The Memphis Grizzlies were 2 games above .500, and they held a 4-game lead for the 8th and final playoff spot. Though the schedule is difficult, the cushion and the Grizzlies’ level of play led to hopes of holding on and reaching the playoffs.
Then, injuries happened.
In the first half of Friday night’s Lakers game, Jaren Jackson Jr. went down with a knee injury. When it looked like Brandon Clarke would seize the opportunity and show what he could do as a starter, he injures his quad 3 minutes into the game.
Oh, and they’re also without their prized trade deadline acquisition, Justise Winslow, and Grayson Allen — one of the team’s better volume 3-point shooters.
So what now?
The Memphis Grizzlies are without their 2 obvious starting 4 candidates, and now there’s uncertainty in where they should go here. The Grizzlies should insert De’Anthony Melton into the starting lineup, shifting Dillon Brooks and Kyle Anderson up to the 3 and 4. They may opt for Josh Jackson, as they did to start the second half of Monday’s loss at the Clippers. Throwing Melton into the starting lineup gives the Grizzlies is necessary here, as he could allow Ja to worry about House defensively — and not Harden or Westbrook. He’s also one of the most impactful players on the roster, so they need to see what he could do as a starter.
These next two weeks won’t be easy, but tonight is a quirky test to see how Taylor Jenkins experiments without Jaren and Clarke.
To Go Big or Go Small?
The Houston Rockets are throwing the NBA for a loop. They’re starting a 6’5” sturdy-but-not-explosive PJ Tucker at the 5. Their tallest rotation player is 6’9” Jeff Green.
To start the game, I’d like to see if they can slow the proceedings down and feed Jonas Valanciunas in the post early. If he could use his size to brutalize the Rockets’ frontcourt, while not being a complete defensive liability, the big man could break out of his recent slump — which is even more important now that Clarke and Jaren are out.
Gorgui Dieng could also be big here. Unlike Valanciunas, Dieng could defend in space and use his length to bother perimeter players. He also could space the floor offensively, as he’s shooting 38.8% from 3 on 2.6 attempts per game. Dieng has notched double-doubles in back-to-back games, so it’d be interesting to see if he could eat against the Rockets’ small frontcourt.
The other alternative here: the Grizzlies could play their game.
Former GBBer Chase Lucas alluded to this on Twitter, but they could shift Josh Jackson and Kyle Anderson down to the 4 and 5, countering the Rockets’ 4/5 combo of Covington and Tucker. I like the idea, considering that both of those guys could hold their own in switch situations.
These injuries also open up minutes and opportunities for Jordan Bell. After serving as an intriguing component of the championship Golden State Warriors team, Bell has fallen out of oblivion, now on his 3rd team in a year. His explosiveness, rim-running, and shot-blocking made him an interesting prospect for the Golden State Warriors. However, the emergence(?) of Kevon Looney, the return of DeMarcus Cousins, and their infatuation with Andrew Bogut shifted Bell out of the rotation.
With this open opportunity, I wonder what he could provide. While thinking on this, a comparison came to my mind — Stromile Swift. Both players were explosive athletes in that tweener big spot — doesn’t space the floor well enough for the 4, and kind of short for the 5. However, they both could provide a pop through a big dunk or block, while also showing off “energy big” potential every so often.
They should look use him in Clarke’s role as a rolling big man that’s a lob threat and a beneficiary of dump-off’s for dunks. Is he Brandon Clarke? No. But can he be serviceable in the role? Possibly.
Tonight’s game against the Rockets provides a good test for Bell, as there may not be anyone in Houston’s front court that can contend with his vertical abilities.
Sorry, the Grizzlies’ recent injury barrage derailed my focus from something super important.
We’ll finally see Ja Morant against Russell Westbrook.
The Grizzlies’ rookie floor general has been compared to Westbrook with his tenacity, aggression, and explosiveness — especially in the open court. Tonight, we’ll get our first look at how Morant stacks up against Westbrook, with a national spotlight.
Can Ja seize the moment, even though his squad is short-handed?
This could be fun. Hopefully. Please, be fun.