Memphis Grizzlies at the Houston Rockets Preview
Wednesday night in Houston we will see a pivotal Western Conference battle between the Grizzlies and Rockets. Both teams currently sit in the playoff picture with Houston sitting at 4th (37-20) and Memphis at 8th (28-29) in the West. The Grizzlies stormed into the All-Star break taking possession of a playoff spot but have lost three straight coming out of the break. All three losses have been against western conferences opponents including two top 3 teams in the Lakers and Clippers. Houston on the other hand has stretched their winning streak to 4 in a row with 3 straight wins post All-Star break.
Time: 8 PM EST
Arena: Toyota Center, Houston, TX
Channel: Fox Sports Southeast
Grizzlies: Jaren Jackson (Out), Justice Winslow (Out), Grayson Allen (Out), Brandon Clarke (Questionable)
Rockets: Russell Westbrook (Questionable), Eric Gordon (Out)
Memphis Grizzlies Starting Lineup
The Grizzlies have been a surprise team out of the West so far this season already passing their preseason win/loss total of 27.5 before the All-Star break. Their success is due to their young core exceeding expectations off the jump and now sit in contention for a playoff spot unless the experience an unexpected second half collapse. Memphis has been an example of a balanced offense with 5 player scoring 12+ points per game. Those 5 players (Morant, Jackson, Brooks, Valanciunas, and Clarke) have an average age of 23 which bodes well for the future of their franchise.
This game against Houston will be their third straight game against a top-4 team in the West (Lakers and Clippers being the last two). This will be an even tougher test due to the fact that they will be without Jaren Jackson who left their game against the Lakers with a knee injury after playing 16 minutes and sat against the Clippers. Jackson’s absence me be extended and the Grizzlies will look to Jonas Valanciunas and Brandon Clarke to pick up the slack.
Memphis was dominated by the Clippers in their last game getting outscored 66-37 in the 1st half. As I mentioned, the Grizzlies were without Jackson but also lost Brandon Clarke 4 minutes into the game due to injury and it is still unknown if he will be available on Wednesday. If Clarke does miss the contest against Houston, they will most likely look to Gorgui Dieng and Jordan Bell to take on the extra minutes.
Memphis will need a big outing from Ja Morant and some extra help from his supporting cast. Both teams like to play an up-tempo game and Houston may be without Russell Westbrook which would be huge. Also, Valanciunas should be a matchup nightmare for Houston’s small ball lineup and I expect him to get plenty of opportunities especially without Jackson and Clarke.
Houston Rockets Starting Lineup
Since the Rockets move Clint Capela, they have fully embraced the small ball mentality. Their rotation now feature no true center with P.J. Tucker, Robert Covington, and Jeff Green working as the de facto 5s. The Rockets have often even put James Harden on the opposing teams center defensively. This allows them to play even more up tempo but also gives them the obvious weakness on the interior defensively. The Rockets haven’t faced too many great post-oriented centers since the Capela trade so Valanciunas should be a good test for their small-ball centers.
The Rockets have been hot as of late winning 4 in a row. Russell Westbrook has been a huge part of their success this year, but Houston will most likely have to get passed the Grizzlies without him as he is suffering from a thumb injury that caused him to miss Monday’s game. The Rockets didn’t need Westbrook to get by the lowly Knicks in their last outing but sure could use him against the tough Grizzlies.
James Harden has been much more efficient since returning back from the All-Star break. He is averaging 31 points with shooting percentages of 52% from the field and 41% from deep. This uber efficient Harden will be key to the Rockets success in Westbrook’s absence. With Eric Gordon also sidelined they will look to the supporting cast to pick up his production. Ben McLemore is a player to watch as he is averaging nearly 13 PPG over his last three contests including 11 three-point field goals over that span.
The Rockets will look to use their elite pace of play to negate their undersized rotation against Memphis. The Mike D’Antoni well known 7 seconds or less system is clear. He wants his team to get up in down the floor, threaten from behind the arc (the lead the NBA in 3pters attempted per game), and get to the line (the also lead the NBA in free throws attempted per game).
Key Player Matchup
Ja Morant vs James Harden
This isn’t the usual type of matchup due to the fact that Harden rarely guards the opposing teams point guard but with Westbrook out we should see a duel between these great guards. Both will look to get out in transition which should make for an exciting level of play.
Jonas Valanciunas vs P.J. Tucker
I have touched on how Valanciunas could potentially create matchup problems for the Rockets. This matchup is mostly in terms of Tucker guarding Valanciunas do to the fact that Jonas has a great height and rebounding advantage to go along with his proficiency in the post. He plays well with his back to the basket and it should be interesting to see if the Grizzlies try and go out Tucker (and the Rockets “bigs”).
As you can tell from what I have written above I like this matchup for Jonas Valanciunas ($6,800). Not many teams have really been able to take advantage of Houston’s undersized frontcourt, but I think Jonas could do so and with Jackson as well as Clarke most likely sidelined, he should see plenty of volume. Some more players I see good value in are Ja Morant ($6,100), Dillion Brooks ($4,100), and Ben McLemore ($3,700). Harden should also be in line for a big performance especially if Westbrook sits but it obviously comes with a huge price tag ($11,700).
Bet on Matchup
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