WHEN: 7:00 PM CT
WHERE: FedExForum in Memphis, Tennessee
HOW TO WATCH/LISTEN: Bally Sports Southeast/92.9 FM ESPN Memphis
MEMPHIS: NONE (!!!!)
HOUSTON: John Wall (Out, Mutually Agreed Upon Absence)
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUPS:
MEMPHIS: Ja Morant, Desmond Bane, Dillon Brooks, Jaren Jackson Jr., Steven Adams
HOUSTON: Kevin Porter Jr., Jalen Green, Jaesean Tate, Daniel Theis, Christian Wood
After a better than expected start, the Memphis Grizzlies have the feel of a team on the opposite end of that spectrum at the moment.
If it weren’t for an unlikely comeback against the Minnesota Timberwolves last week, the Grizzlies would be staring down the barrel of a five-game losing streak. The defense continues to fail them. Their shooting stroke has abandoned them of late. It all adds up to a squad - and fan base - that was feeling a lot better about themselves just seven days ago than they do currently. It is up to someone - or more likely, the collective - within the Memphis Grizzlies to stop the snowball effect.
But there is good news. With 69 games to go, there is plenty of time to right the ship of a 6-7 basketball team. And tonight’s opponent - the Houston Rockets - is not exactly a championship contender.
Sure, you’re probably reading this and thinking to yourselves - “But wait, didn’t the Grizzlies just lose to another team that before they played Memphis had just one win?” You’re correct of course - the New Orleans Pelicans were struggling when Ja Morant and company came to town. But that was the second game of a back to back for the Grizzlies, and NOLA (while indeed bad) was juiced by a returning All-Star caliber player in Brandon Ingram. The Pelicans are off to a slow start. They’re not actively trying to not be competitive.
The Houston Rockets...well...they’re focused on development. And while the Grizzlies are rested after Sunday off, the Rockets played the Phoenix Suns last night and got beat soundly.
So how can the Grizzlies stop the snowball effect and get back to .500?
Attack Christian Wood
Jalen Green - the top pick of the Rockets in this past draft - gets a majority of the attention. Eric Gordon is having a solid season off the bench for Houston. But the best player for the young Rockets is Christian Wood. Wood leads them in both points and rebounds per game, and so much of what they hope Green will be able to do the first two years of his career in Houston (for now) is connected to Wood. He has the shooting stroke, the understanding of leverage on the glass, the physical ability and awareness mentally to be impactful both as a pick and roll and pick and pop offensive weapon to be a problem for Steven Adams in particular.
He has to be taken out of his game.
Not literally, relax. Not calling for cheap shots. But Grizzlies Head Coach Taylor Jenkins has to force Wood outside of his comfort zone. Find ways to get him isolated defensively and force him to play in space/potentially pick up foul trouble. Make him get the ball out of his hands and be more of a facilitator/creator after he gets the ball. While the Rockets have young talent, there hasn’t really been a consistent efficient scorer in the starting lineup - JaeSean Tate is the only other Rockets starter averaging double-digit points per game while also shooting better than 45% from the floor.
Porter Jr. and Green are capable of going off...but their likelihood of doing so is lower than Woods. Make him the priority and make other Rockets beat you.
Need the reserves to win
Eric Gordon is thriving for the Rockets right now. Before last night’s contest with Phoenix Gordon was shooting almost 46% from beyond the arc for Houston. He’s had a tendency to go off on the Memphis Grizzlies a time or two in the past, and if you’ve been watching Memphis lately you know their perimeter defense is currently leaving a lot to be desired. Gordon must be licking his chops...but he’s not alone. When the Rockets have competed, young bigs like Alperen Sengun and Kenyon Martin Jr. have had success scoring the ball and using their combination of size (Sengun), athleticism (Martin Jr.), and skill (both).
Assuming Desmond Bane remains the starter at the 2 guard despite his current issues, that means whatever combination of Tyus Jones/De’Anthony Melton/Ziaire Williams/John Konchar/Kyle Anderson/Xavier Tillman/Brandon Clarke gets deployed tonight must be productive in their minutes. The starters should (SHOULD) see some success if they’re able to neutralize Wood. However, there is enough firepower on the Rockets bench that they can maintain or even gain on the Grizzlies if Memphis is not able to execute.
Given the size of the Rockets, a Jones/Melton/Williams/Anderson/Tillman or Clarke reserve group should see some run. There’s enough experience and defensive acumen there to keep Houston at bay.
The Grizzlies have to be hungry to get back on the winning track. But with how young Memphis is, and the immaturity that often accompanies such youth, you cannot write off this team overlooking the Rockets (whether they should or not). Expect to see some of that - the game will be closer at times than perhaps it should be - until the 4th quarter, when the Grizzlies will pull away and get their record back to .500.
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