Houston hasn’t won a game since the beginning of February. Yes, you read that correctly. Memphis went down to Houston and snapped what was supposed to be a 13 game losing streak. I’m a game where Memphis was once up 14 points and looking like they were pulling away in blowout fashion ended in a plot twist. The Grizzlies’ shooting struggles continue as Memphis went 5/26 as a team from Three-point range. They also went 19/27 from the free throw line in a game they lost by 11 points. That means they left at least nine points on the table that came back to hunt them later.
If you went to bed early and only watched the first half, you likely went to bed counting this game as a blowout win for Memphis. However, Houston came from behind and stole the lead in the second half, as the young scrappy bunch for the Rockets allowed their trash talking to motivate them to hang around late. Memphis shot 45% from the field as a team, while Houston responded by finishing with 52% shooting as a whole. Christian Woods was in a good mood today long enough to have a great game in a win for his team. Woods finished with 28 points and 13 rebounds, while Kevin Porter Jr had a game-high scoring with 29 points.
JA MORANT: 35:25 minutes/ 22 points/ 6 assists/ 4 rebounds/ 2 steals/ -12 +/-
Ja struggled offensively in terms of scoring efficiency as he shot 7-20 from the field overall. However his teammates failed to make shots, even wide open (Hello, De’Anthony Melton) and that allowed Houston to focus on stopping 12, which proved successful. When they doubled and collapsed on Ja, no one aside from Desmond Bane had a good scoring response.
12 also surprisingly lost the matchup battle between he and “Mr. Can’t Dunk Right” rookie Jalen Green, who scored 24 points on his way to the upset victory. Maybe Ja can do better at getting his teammates going, but ultimately it’s up to them to knock down shots or at least play full steam defensively and everywhere else to compensate. Memphis didn’t do that, and here we are losing to the worst team in the league, with the two seed in the West on the line at this point.
DESMOND BANE: 36:13 minutes/ 28 points/ 3 assists/ 2 rebounds/ 2 steals/ +1 +/-
Bane did his damn thang in a wasted effort. He was one of the very few bright spots in the evening for Memphis with his 28 points leading the Grizzlies. Despite his matchup in Kevin Porter Jr. leading the game in scoring with 29 points, Bane played solid defense and kept up offensively when everyone else (aside from Steven Adams) didn’t, including Morant. Good to see him shaking off his shooting funk of recent, just wish the other guys will do the same, especially when they’re open... my goodness. Bane finished with a +1 +/ despite his team losing by double digits and his matchup scoring one more point than himself.
JAREN JACKSON JR: 12:56 minutes: 8 points/ 3 rebounds/ 1 block/ 1 steal/ +1 +/-/ 5 fouls
He at least tried to played defense when he wasn’t fouling, that’s for sure. He even had a +1 +/- for the evening. That said, much of his positive +/- despite a double-digit loss, can be attributed to the fact he only played 13 minutes. He was supposed to be the one who slowed down Christian Wood who again had 28 points and 13 rebounds. Jaren’s -0.9 Net rating even furthers my assessment.
Jaren has to step up consistently offensively, and it doesn’t matter what all factored into his challenges doing so. Even if he isn’t scoring at an efficient percentage, he must have a ton of rebounds and shot attempts at worst. He has to develop the mindset that 20 points and 10 rebounds is the floor for him most nights. He can get a huge chunk of that just being more active and tenacious about offense, even off the floor. He also needs a certain amount of time on the floor to do so. That requires playing smart mentally and understanding your offensive value is damn near more important than your defensive value, especially when most of the team has been struggling to contribute scoring recently. Also the playoffs are just around the corner now.
Jaren is just too pivotal to this team to go into long slumps. Just before All-Star break, Jaren was making a strong argument for the all star replacement slot. He had nights he struggled from the field in terms of efficiency, but he was so damn active, he still was having 20/10 games. That Jaren has been seen far more often than not.
You got the contract, and Lord knows you have the ability. Now finish the season making the argument you were robbed of that All-Star replacement spot. Instead, of making the argument, that you only played strong then for an All-Star spot. If you ask me, that starts with developing the mindset that you’re going to be an animal on both ends every night. Simply serving up your natural defensive gifts as your only offering just ain’t enough from someone as gifted as Jaren. He has top-5 big man potential, and Memphis will need nothing less than top 8 NBA big man production and overall performance if they’re gonna have a shot at reaching their potential. Hell, you might even have to take a page from Shaq’s book and demand more looks even if it ruffles some feathers. Still, you have to be on the floor to do anything.
Steven Adams: 36:53 minutes/ 23 points/ 12 rebounds/ 5 assists/ 3 blocks/ -13 +/-
Adams had a double-digit scoring quarter in the first period. He was the guy that helped Memphis take control of the game early on in what appeared to be a developing blowout for Memphis at the time. However, when Jaren got into foul trouble, things went left and made Steven’s contributions irrelevant, and his production was star-like in terms of raw numbers.
When, Jaren went out Adams was tasked with defending Woods and anchoring the defense. Too much to ask from a guy built solid as a tree stomp and doesn’t move the best laterally. Houston shot 38% from deep, but they mostly attacked the basket, and they did it often because Adams wasn’t built to keep up in such a small-ball game. Adams honestly did what he could to the maximum degree. He definitely produced a lot offensively and rebounding due to his relentless activity (take notes, Jaren). However, his defensive limitations made the former still largely irrelevant, so it’s an interesting grade for me.
Tyus, a solid showing even though he wasn’t hot, per se. He still managed to chip in nine points and six assists despite shooting only 4-11 from the field. The rest of the crew’s performance last night simply doesn’t deserve anyones time to individually grade their performances. Brandon Clarke produced some with eight points, but he wasn’t enough a game-changer defensively nor spacing the floor, although we don’t require much of such. Kyle Anderson didn’t do anything worth mentioning. De’Anthony Melton has been so inconsistent and ugly shooting it’s now worth mentioning. Melton has flat-out regressed this season.
When Dillon Brooks comes back, I expect him out of the rotation altogether and possibly the first one shipped out this offseason. His offensive inconsistency at this point in his career is just inexcusable and unreliable. I don’t care how charismatic your smile is, you can’t be on the floor, when you are ice-cold even wide open outside. One or two nice hustle plays a night doesn’t justify his hit to the salary cap and certainly not a rotation that will likely be 8-men deep in less than 20 games. I’d rather go with Ziaire’s potential than Melton’s one or two hustle plays with those minutes. At least Ziaire is a more comforting catch-and-shooter already than Melton has become.
COACHING: Taylor Jenkins
Someone where in the midst of our assessments we’ve seem to give Jenkins a pass from what I survey. However, the fish stinks from the head down and Big Jenkins is the head. Now overall this season he has been a top 5 favorite for Coach Of The Year. That said, this is the time of the year you truly should be earning such talk.
Jenkins has to rally this team together down the stretch. It’s best they go through their last rough patch now than get in the playoffs and have to go through it then. He has to hold guys more accountable, even if that means tightening the rotation more for a few games. Guys can’t expect to get minutes only to consistently miss wide open shots and then get beat on the other end. He can start with looking to create more opportunities for Jaren to be a consistent offensive producer, that is nonnegotiable if Memphis wants to advance in the playoffs.