The last time the Rockets faced the Grizzlies, it started a five game winning streak. Granted, all of those wins came against teams with records under .500, but you can only play who's on the schedule.
The Rockets are currently on a three game winning streak, including wins over Atlanta and New York, two above-.500 teams in the Eastern Conference. So the script is a little flipped tonight, as the Grizzlies host the Rockets in Memphis but are on a two game losing streak.
The Rockets' recent dominance of the Grizzlies is baffling to me. The Grizzlies present a style of play that usually poses a conundrum for the Rockets: athletic play with a big frontcourt. We've seen countless teams dominate the Rockets with this combination, but never the Grizzlies. So what is holding the Grizzlies back? Is it their lack of experience? Do they have a bad backcourt? Are they inefficient? Let's look at each one:
1. Lack of experience
There's no real way to quantify this. This current incarnation of the Grizzlies hasn't been to the playoffs. They finished 10th last season. The players with the most playoff experience are Tony Allen (56 games) and Zach Randolph (8 games). The Grizzlies seem like one of those teams that should pick up an experienced big man (e.g. Kurt Thomas) just to let him teach the young guys some tips and tricks.
2. Bad backcourt
This is a point of contention, but I really dislike the guards for the Grizz. Mike Conley has admittedly improved his game, but still is overpaid. OJ Mayo has been awful this season. Xavier Henry is still a rookie and needs time to develop. Sam Young is a less athletic Terrence Williams. Greivis Vasquez is shooting 36%. You read that right.
The only thing this group does well is steal. They lead the league in steals, but are only 9-8 when they grab 10 or more steals. In fact, they stole the ball 18 (eighteen!) times against the Phoenix Suns and still lost. Furthermore, they only average 20 assists per game, good for 23rd in the league. Finally, they attempt the fewest threes of any team in the Association, and only hit 34% of them. As we know the three is the second most efficient shot in basketball, that leads us to the third point.
We've already covered the three pointer, which the Rockets usually live and die by. And by most bland efficiency metrics, the Grizzlies have as many "efficient" players as the Rockets do in the top 100 in the league. Eight of the Grizzlies have true shooting percentages of over 45%. Just as a reference, 11 Rockets are in the same club. As a team, the Grizz shoot have a eFG% of 48%. The Rockets are currently sitting at 51%.
I can't find a statistical breakdown of where the Grizzlies have been shooting, but just look at some of their shot charts (like this one from a recent OT loss to the Hornets) and you'll get a good idea that this team takes too many jump shots and misses a lot of shots in the paint.
Hopefully this made some sense. It's my first stab at efficiency stuff, and I don't have a Synergy Sports account or anything remotely as nice.
Onto the matchups...
Conley has come back down to Earth after his scorching start. He's averaging 13/7/3, but Lowry is averaging 11/7/4 in slightly fewer minutes. Plus, Lowry always brings his A game against his former club. I, for one, am glad they traded him and not Conley. Just another reason why Morey is so good at what he does.
SG: Kevin Martin vs. Sam Young:
The Grizzlies are still dedicated to letting OJ Mayo come off the bench. He's been shooting so poorly that they've been trying to trade him away to no avail. Much like during Chase Budinger's slump, it's tough to find suitors for a shooter who can't shoot.
I thought Sam Young would be a better player in the NBA, and he certainly has time to get better, but I haven't seen what I thought I would from him. He should be athletic enough to force K-Mart into his two obligatory travels.
Rudy Gay is really good. He averages 21 points per game and is pretty streaky. He's shooting 48%, which is remarkable for a guy who takes as many jumpers as he does. He's even shooting 42% from three point range, which is incredible.
Shane got killed by Gay in an unusual contradiction to the "Grizzlies' athleticism is void against the Rockets" corollary. Gay is averaging 24 points per game against the Rockets in the two earlier meetings this year.
Randolph has double-doubles in all but nine games this season. Two of those were against the Rockets. He's averaging 20/13 on 49% shooting and has an outside chance at the West All-Star team, especially if Melo gets traded before the deadline.
Scola is also making a push for the ASG, but as amazing as it sounds, Z-Bo has been more important to the Grizzlies than Scola has been to the Rockets. But for some reason, Chuck Hayes and Scola have been able to contain Randolph as other teams cannot.
Which Chuck Hayes will we get tonight? The one who has invisible stat lines and does all the little things, or the one who pulls a 8/12/4/3/2 against the top PF in the East? I'm looking forward to this matchup the most.
Gasol scores well against us, but is usually kept off the boards pretty well. He averages a full two more rebounds than he grabs against the Rockets.
So what should I do? Give it to the better overall player (Gasol) or reward a guy who just played the game of his life and shuts down this particular opponent so well (Chuck)? Time for a cop out.
Grizz: Xavier Henry out, Tony Allen day-to-day
Rockets: Brad Miller out
Prognosis: Difficult battle, but curable