WHERE: Toyota Center — Houston, TX
WHEN: 7:00 PM CT
HOW TO WATCH/LISTEN: Fox Sports Southeast/NBA League Pass/92.9 FM ESPN Memphis
MEMPHIS: Jaren Jackson Jr. (Out, knee)
HOUSTON: Christian Wood (Out, right ankle soreness), Eric Gordon (Out, right groin strain)
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUPS:
MEMPHIS: Ja Morant, Grayson Allen, Dillon Brooks, Kyle Anderson, Jonas Valanciunas
HOUSTON: John Wall, Kevin Porter Jr., Sterling Brown, Jae’Sean Tate, Kelly Olynyk
On last Friday and Saturday night, the Memphis Grizzlies learned a painful lesson that they are not yet ready to truly compete with the league’s elite, as they suffered back-to-back losses to the Utah Jazz. Yet as much of a difference there might be between the Utah Jazz and the Grizzlies, there is probably an even bigger difference between the Grizzlies and the cratering Houston Rockets.
Let me start with some good news about the Rockets: they have managed to win two of their last game four games. That’s good! The bad news is that they are 2-22 in their last 24 games, which is one of the most remarkably awful stretches from a team in recent NBA history. They literally made Stephen Silas, who is in desperate need of prayer, cry. Even worse, they will be without Christian Wood against Memphis tonight, who has easily been their best player this year and a revelation as a true centerpiece for the fledgling franchise.
Sadly enough, the last win that the Rockets had before they went on a 20-game losing streak was against the Grizzlies at FedExForum back on February 4th. However, the Grizzlies didn’t forget and ran them out of the gym 133-84 in their last meeting in Houston nearly a month ago.
Of course, anyone can beat anyone in the NBA, something that the Grizzlies have unfortunately discovered recently. But even if this isn't quite the same Rockets team that they blew out in their last meeting, the Grizzlies have a great opportunity to get back on track against a far inferior team.
Here are some keys for the Grizzlies to pull out the victory.
Attack a weak front-court
Look, I’m not going to waste much time on this section. The Grizzlies are the best paint-scoring team in the NBA, and the Rockets are likely starting Kelly Olynyk at center. You should be able to put the pieces of the puzzle together for what the Grizzlies need to do. If they make an active effort to attack the paint, they should be able to score with ease against a Houston front-court that includes Olynyk, the 6’4 Tate, and D.J. Wilson.
Make the Rockets Shoot
It’s no exaggeration to say that the Rockets are the worst shooting team in the NBA, which won’t be helped by the fact that Eric Gordon will be out. They rank dead-last in three-point shooting at just over 33%, which won’t come as a surprise to the Grizzlies since the Rockets somehow managed to shoot 4-45 (??) from three in their last meeting.
Turning the Rockets into a jump-shooting team will not be particularly hard, considering that they rank 4th in threes attempted at 40.4 per game (I’m pretty sure that Mike D’Antoni has irrevocably broken that franchise). But it will still be important for the Grizzlies to contain dribble penetration against two talented ball-handlers and creators in John Wall and my 2019 NBA Draft crush Kevin Porter Jr., who did not play in the last meeting with Memphis due to his Josh Jackson-esque odyssey in the G-League, to prevent open looks on kick-outs.
This is the type of game that the Grizzlies need to win to stay in the playoff race—and this is the type of game that we’ll be able to point to for why the Grizzlies didn’t make the playoffs/play-in if they lose. They couldn’t steal a game in Utah, which is fine; it was expected. But it does mean that they must take care of business against a soundly inferior Rockets team.
And they will. I expect it to be a back-and-forth affair in the first half, before the Grizzlies’ far superior depth and bench allows them to quickly pull away in the second half for a double-digit win.