WHERE: FedExForum in Memphis, Tennessee
WHEN: 7:00 PM CT
HOW TO WATCH/LISTEN: Bally Sports Southeast/92.9 FM ESPN Memphis
MEMPHIS: Brandon Clarke (Out, knee), Dillon Brooks (Out, health and safety) Sam Merill (Out, ankle), Ziaire Williams (Out, ankle), Ja Morant (Out, knee) — Based on injury report prior to last night’s game
HOUSTON: Jalen Green (Out, hamstring)
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUPS:
MEMPHIS: Tyus Jones, De’Anthony Melton, Desmond Bane, Dillon Brooks, Jaren Jackson Jr., Steven Adams
HOUSTON: Armoni Brooks, Garrison Matthews, Eric Gordon, Ja’Sean Tate, Christian Wood
In the aftermath of the Grizzlies incredible win over the Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday night despite being down four rotation players, I was left with a single question: “How the heck did they do that?”
Over the years that Zach Randolph was in Memphis, you could always ask yourself a similar question. You could barely fit a dime between his feet and the floor, but he managed to always overwhelm his opponents with his combination of skill and bruising in-your-face physicality.
It is the same blue-collar identity that Randolph embodied during his time in Memphis that we can truly appreciate about the underdog, under-manned Grizzlies who have now managed to win 6 of their last 7 games without Ja Morant. And it’s only fitting that we should celebrate Z-Bo in the midst of such an impressive run.
Yet that doesn’t mean the game itself will be easy for the Grizzlies.
The Rockets are...good?
The Grizzlies are not the only NBA team that is currently surging without their franchise centerpiece. Jalen Green is no Ja Morant yet, but the Rockets have still managed to win 7 of their last 8 games after starting 1-16. They haven’t just been beating the league’s worst teams either; they beat the Brooklyn Nets 114-104 on Wednesday night
There’s really been four guys that have been the most responsible for their recent success. Eric Gordon has been their reliable veteran, as he’s averaged a quality 14.4 points while shooting 43% from three. Jae’Sean Tate has set the tone for the Rockets on both ends and has been instrumental in helping them establish a culture. Christian Wood has picked right up where he left off last year, averaging 16.4 points and 11.5 rebounds.
However, the most surprising key contributor for the Rockets during their run has been Garrison Matthews, the pride of Lipscomb! Matthews went undrafted in 2019 and spent his first two years in the NBA as an end-of-bench guy for the Wizards. But that hasn’t stopped him from being superb so far this year. Over his last 7 games, he’s averaged 16.1 points while shooting a ridiculous 55% from three.
The Rockets are young, hungry, and they are well-coached by Stephen Silas, which did not appear to be the case earlier this year.
But the Grizzlies should still win this game, because...
Jaren Jackson Jr. will feast
It really didn’t matter who the Lakers threw at Jaren Jackson Jr. on Thursday night. Whether it was Anthony Davis or LeBron James, he dominated with authority.
When the Grizzlies last played the Rockets on November 15th, Jaren scored 18 points in just 24 minutes. The Rockets have some promising young bigs, but they simply lack the personnel to properly defend him. What he demonstrated against the Lakers should be just a preview of the damage he should inflict on the Rockets’ front-court.
Desmond Bane will continue his hot stretch of play, and the Grizzlies will continue to display their renewed commitment to the defensive end by running Eric Gordon and Garrison Matthews off the three-point line. The Grizzlies will pull away late in the second half to come away with a double-digit win, and Zach Randolph will be pleased.