WHEN: 7:00 PM CT
WHERE: Toyota Center in Houston, TX
HOW TO WATCH/LISTEN: Bally Sports Southeast/92.9 FM ESPN Memphis
MEMPHIS: Dillon Brooks (Doubtful, left thigh soreness), Ziaire Williams (Out, right knee soreness) Jaren Jackson Jr. (Out, foot surgery recovery), Danny Green (Out, knee surgery recovery)
HOUSTON: Daishen Nix (Doubtful, back), Jae’Sean Tate (Out, ankle), TyTy Washington (Out, knee)
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUPS:
MEMPHIS: Ja Morant, Desmond Bane, John Konchar, Santi Aldama, Steven Adams
HOUSTON: Kevin Porter Jr., Jalen Green, Eric Gordon, Jabari Smith, Alperen Sengün
After a gritty overtime win over the New York Knicks on Wednesday, the Memphis Grizzlies travel to Houston to take on their divisional foe. The Rockets opened their season on the road, falling to the Hawks 117-107.
Houston hung around against Atlanta for three quarters but ultimately came up short against Trae Young and Dejounte Murray. The Rockets’ young studs had uneven performances highlighted by poor shooting. Jalen Green shot 7/20 (35.0%) and 1/7 (14.3%) from beyond the arc. Jabari Smith Jr., the second overall pick in this year’s draft, shot 6/17 (35.3%) and 3/11 (27.3%) from three.
The Grizzlies blew an 18-point third-quarter lead but squeaked by in OT thanks to Ja Morant’s heroics. Morant poured in 34 points and nine assists. He shot 11/24 (45.8%) from the field and 3/6 from deep. Now in his fourth year, Morant is known for his highlight plays and he did not disappoint Wednesday.
Expectations are everything and for these two teams 2023 represents different opportunities. For Houston, the organization has the chance to see its collection of young talent share the floor and develop together. Expectations are not high for the Rockets; it is more likely they enter the Victor Wembanyana sweepstakes than make the Play-in tournament. Memphis finished with the second-best record in the NBA last year. While the team’s expectations may be a championship, their offseason moves reflect an organization that is still looking toward the future. Morant helped put Memphis on the map last year and that has led to widespread enthusiasm. He will need to continue his superstar rise for Memphis to stay at the top of the Western Conference.
Memphis is banged up but to avoid a slow start it will need to win the easy ones and while Houston has talent, the Grizzlies are established. To walk away victorious tonight, Memphis’s rookies need to step up and Desmond Bane needs to find his touch.
Capitalizing on Opportunity
It was a quiet night for Memphis’s 2023 first-round picks. Jake LaRavia was 1/2 from the field and both of his shots were three-pointers. LaRavia finished with five points after making a trip to the free-throw line. He also tallied two rebounds, an assist and two stocks. The Wake Forest product showed his defensive activity throughout the preseason and Wednesday was no different. LaRavia’s off-ball defense has been impressive. He plays help defense, often forcing turnovers without losing his assignment. With Williams and Brooks out on Wednesday, LaRavia played all of his minutes at the three sharing the court with Santi Aldama and Xavier Tillman for most of the game.
As the season plays out, LaRavia will likely play more minutes at the four. After playing only 12 minutes on Wednesday, tonight he will have the opportunity to show he can be a versatile forward. His size presents challenges for smaller wings and his shooting ability makes him an offensive threat. If given more playing time tonight, LaRavia will show Grizzlies fans why he was drafted 19th overall.
David Roddy struggled Wednesday. In 13 minutes, Roddy went 0/6 from the field and 0/2 from three. He grabbed two rebounds and assisted on one basket but otherwise, he was a nonfactor against New York. After Memphis traded away De’Anthony Melton to acquire Roddy, Grizzlies fans hoped he would be NBA-ready. While he did not contribute much in Wednesday’s opener, the Grizzlies coaching staff will continue to give Roddy opportunities.
Tonight is the perfect time for Roddy to step up. On many offensive possessions, Roddy was relegated to the corner, however, when he was active and got touches, the offense hummed. If he receives touches in the flow of the offense, Roddy will thrive, taking pressure off Bane and Morant.
Get Desmond Bane Going
After an incredible leap last year, Bane enters the 2022 season as one of the league’s best shooting guards. He finished second in three-point percentage last year (43.1) and proved how integral he was to Memphis’s success. While he emerged as one of the league’s best deadeyes, the rest of his game was overlooked. Bane has incredible instincts and is comfortable with the ball in his hands thanks to his time as a point guard at Summer League in 2021. Bane has an elite first step that allows him to get around defenders. He cuts and finds open lanes with ease. Despite his shorter wingspan, Bane is more than a capable defender. Bane’s quick feet allow him to excel when defending on ball. His game is complete and this combination of talent is why many Grizzlies fans pegged him as a surprise All-Star candidate this year.
With all that being said, Bane did not look right against the Knicks. As Memphis’s second offensive option, Bane has a big responsibility, and on Wednesday his shots were not falling. Bane was 6/22 and 3/13 from three. His patented fly-by three was well defended by New York and he rarely got clean looks. After catching teams off guard a year ago, Bane has become a focus of opposing teams’ defensive game plans. Despite his shooting struggles, Bane was impactful offensively, tallying six assists. Bane only averaged 2.3 assists last season but expect that number to rise as his usage rate increases.
Bane left the game early after he suffered what looked like a hamstring injury. Thankfully, after the game, Taylor Jenkins said Bane’s injury was just a cramp. In the preseason, Bane was lights out against Orlando, dropping 33 points and going 4-6 from three. However, in his three other preseason games, he shot a combined 2/19 from deep. For the Grizzlies to compete in the loaded Western Conference, Bane needs to find his shot. If he regains his touch from deep, Bane and Morant will be in the conversation for the best backcourt duo in the league.
This smells like a trap, doesn’t it? On the road after an overtime win missing three of your top players is not an ideal position. Houston is loaded with guys who just want to hoop. Green, Smith and Kevin Porter Jr. can score, and while they were not efficient against Atlanta, they could find their touch in the Rockets’ home opener. It is the first night of a back-to-back, and they face Luka Dončić on Saturday. It is certainly possible Memphis looks ahead to their matchup with the Mavericks and overlooks a talented Houston team.
It is hard to bet against Morant, though. For the first time in franchise history, the Grizzlies have a true superstar. Memphis has done a fantastic job surrounding their star with talent that compliments his playstyle. Houston will come out hot in the first half and the Grizz will be sluggish after Wednesday’s overtime game. However, with meaningful contributions from the rookies, Memphis will hang around. After a shaky preseason, Bane will find his jumper against a Houston backcourt that is short on defense. Memphis will grab the lead thanks to a big third quarter from Bane and Morant will take over in the fourth to lead the Grizzlies to 2-0.
Memphis 111, Houston 103
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