Who: Memphis Grizzlies at Houston Rockets
When: 7:00 PM CST
Where: Toyota Center, Houston, TX
Records: Memphis (53-25), Houston (44-34)
Media: TNT, 92.9 FM, 680 AM
Forums: 3 Shades of Blue, Grizzlies Message Board
Memphis starts their final push to the playoffs but the teams they will be playing are going to likely push back hard. First up is Houston who is just a half game behind Golden State for the 6th seed in the conference. The Grizzlies are a single game ahead of Saturday night’s opponent the LA Clippers. In many ways the playoffs begin tonight. The Grizzlies want the win to keep their positive momentum heading into the playoffs but how far are they willing to go to insure it? With Bayless and Arthur healing from minor injuries and Gasol and Randolph playing despite their injuries, it won’t be a surprise to see Memphis looking ahead of this game to the major battle Saturday night. A tie with the Clippers is no better than being 5 games behind since LA won their division. Clearly Saturday night is more important but Houston is also a good test of where the team is today. One point to remember, Memphis has lost 13 straight games in Houston.
Houston is in a peculiar situation as well. Do they want to remain in 7th and likely face the fading, aging Spurs or move up to 6th only to likely face the Nuggets who have easily handled the Rockets in all four meetings this season? Not an easy decision. Of course the Nuggets have lost Danillo Galinari for the season and Ty Lawson’ return is unclear. Further, the Rockets weren’t starting Greg Smith. Since Smith entered the lineup the Rockets are 5-1 and their defense has performed at a top 10 level. The competition was weak over that span however. The Rockets haven’t lost a step offensively since the change with Harden, Lin and Chandler Parsons leading the way. Parsons is doubtful in this game as is super sub Carlos Delfino but don’t mistake that for a coasting attitude.
Expected Starting Lineups:
Mike Conley vs Jeremy Lin
Is there a hotter PG in the league right now than Mike Conley? The Grizzlies floor leader has taken a monstrous step forward since the Rudy Gay and has averaged 20.4 PPG and while maintain his 6.1 APG seasonal average over the last 10 games. Most importantly he has hit 51.7% of his attempts making him efficient and prolific. Lin has struggled to re-find the magic he had last season in NYC. However, he has picked up the pace in April averaging 18.4 PPG and 8.6 APG on the top ranked Rockets attack.
Tony Allen vs James Harden
James Harden is getting serious consideration for an All-NBA recognition this season. Tony Allen is almost guaranteed an All NBA Defensive team spot. It’s the age-old battle of the unstoppable force against the immovable object. When rested Allen has had the better of the battle too. In three games Hardin is averaging only 18.7 PPG on 40% shooting and that is including the 30 point explosion he had back in December. Harden took himself out of the game in Memphis with a foot injury. With Houston having clinched their playoff spot don’t be surprised to see Harden rested even more.
Tayshaun Prince vs Francisco Garcia
Prince has not been the scorer Rudy Gay was but he has been as good defensively as his predecessor plus far more efficient moving the ball and helping out with pressure. Prince has never been a great rebounder but his long arms have helped the Grizzlies when a big rebound is needed. Garcia is a poor man’s Prince. His defense is adequate but not exceptoinal. His ball handling is good for someone his size but nothing exceptional. He’s a good shooter and all around solid player but not exceptional in any area.
Zach Randolph vs Greg Smith
If there is an unknown in this game it is matchup. Greg Smith has brought defensive toughness and rebounding to the Rockets frontline that has been missing all season. As a starter Smith is averaging 10.0 PPG and 5.2 RPG in his six starts while hitting 58.3% of his FG attempts. Randolph has been low-key lately averaging 12.6 PPG and 9.0 RPG on 39.1% shooting. Randolph’s decline has effected his attitude on the court too. The Grizzlies have been winning despite his decline but the team would be happy to see him return to his old self against the inexperienced Smith. Until that happens Randolph has to be seen as a weak link for the Grizzlies.
Marc Gasol vs Omer Asik
Gasol is not 100% but that has been acceptable since even at less than 100% Gasol has been more than effective. Gasol has been turning down shots he drained in March but he still has been controlling the defensive end of the court including two blocks in the final 7 seconds against Sacramento to seal the win. Asik has been dominating the glass lately averaging 14.0 RPG in his last 5 games and is shooting 62.5% over that span. Never a great offensive player Asik has nearly averaged a double-double against Gasol this season.
It is amazing that Memphis hasn’t suffered more lately with Randolph’s poor play and Arthur out with back issues but Ed Davis has filled in well in the meantime. Over the last 10 games Davis is averaging 6.2 PPF and 5.7 RPG on 54.3% shooting in just over 17 MPG. Bayless’ absence has been filled by Quincy Pondexter whose defense has made up for his tepid shooting. Austin Daye and Jon Leuer have made the most of their time on the court as well. Recent pick up Keyon Dooling is still looking to find his shot after nearly a year off the court. Donatas Motiejunas stretches teams with his perimeter shooting but is weak on the glass. Patrick Beverly has been coming on strong of late averaging 7.9 PPG and hitting 46.8% of his FG attempts to keep the offense clicking while Lin is on the bench as well.