WHERE: Toyota Center in Houston, TX
WHEN: 7 PM CT
HOW TO WATCH/LISTEN: Fox Sports Southeast/NBA League Pass/92.9 FM ESPN Memphis
MEMPHIS: Killian Tillie (Questionable, foot), Jaren Jackson Jr. (Out, knee), Grayson Allen (Out, concussion)
HOUSTON: Victor Oladipo (Out, rest), Christian Wood (Out, Ankle), Dante Exum (Out, calf)
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUPS:
MEMPHIS: Ja Morant, Desmond Bane, Dillon Brooks, Kyle Anderson, Jonas Valanciunas
HOUSTON: John Wall, Eric Gordon, Jae’Sean Tate, Danuel House Jr., PJ Tucker
Look at the difference 3 weeks makes.
These two teams faced each other at the beginning of February and the Rockets took care of the Grizzlies pretty handily, 115-103. During that game, the Rockets lost Christian Wood to injury and haven’t won since. The Rockets are losers of 10 straight and only three of the losses have been by single digits.
At the time, it felt like both teams could possibly contend for the Southwest Division title. But, now it seems the Rockets are lottery bound.
The Grizzlies have done a solid Jekyll and Hyde impression since the game against the Rockets. Sometimes they look like world beaters, and at other times a team that may struggle to make the play-in games. That was on full display in their back-to-back against the Clippers. Game one the Grizz dominated and in the second game, Kawhi Leonard took over for the Clips.
Let’s get to the keys of tonight’s game against the Rockets as the Grizzlies look to get back to .500.
Dominate the Paint
The Rockets will be playing small ball against the Grizz, with PJ Tucker playing the ‘5.’ Right now, the Grizzlies are on a historic run when it comes to scoring in the paint – a record 77 straight games of at least 40 points in the paint – which is by far a record.
I don’t doubt that they will make it 78, but they also need to crash the glass against the Rockets. If they allow Houston to get some offensive boards, they could pay dearly in second chance points with all the shooters that Houston has.
Jonas, who missed the first matchup with Houston, has been on quite the roll recently with six straight double-doubles. But, we’ve seen at times where he doesn’t show up when he clearly has the advantage in the matchup. This cannot be the case tonight, he needs to go out and aim for a Barbara Walters (20/20).
And finally on this key, I think this is a game where Ja can set a tone early by driving to the lane and getting to the bucket. If he can do that, it should open the rest of the offense.
Don’t let the role players beat you
I think it should go without saying that John Wall is going to get his tonight. He has led the Rockets in scoring 7 of their last 10 games (Victor Oladipo has two of those and he is out tonight.)
The thing the Grizzlies cannot do is let an David Nwaba or Danuel House Jr. go off for 30+ points as well. In recent losses, we have seen Tim Hardaway Jr. score 29 (season avg. 16.8 pts.), Terance Mann with 13 (4.7 pts), and Josh Hart go for 27 (8.8 pts). There are plenty other reasons why the Grizz didn’t win those games. But more times than not, those guys were hitting big shots anytime the Grizz got close. And I can remember for all three of them going ‘This guy, again?!?’ when they’d knock down a shot.
Eric Gordon is a also a player that can fill it up and can score a lot of points in a short time span. Coach Taylor Jenkins needs to do what he can to keep Gordon from catching fire.
The Grizzlies are coming into the game fairly healthy with only Grayson and Jaren out. Heck, we may even see the season debut of Killian Tillie! One team is coming into the game with postseason expectations while another is in a free fall in the Western Conference.
Keep in mind, Ja did get ejected at the end of their last game over foul calls. That, combined with a matchup against a higher tier PG in John Wall, I think 12 will come out with a little bit of a chip on his shoulder.
In saying all of that, I do expect Houston to put up a fight. This team is desperate for a win, and they have some confidence against the Grizz since that’s their last win. Maybe those are the reasons Vegas has Memphis as a 1.5-point dog. I have the Grizz to cover and win
Memphis 120, Houston 109