Games after the All-Star break take on extra meaning for everyone. Good teams are fighting for playoff spots or position, while bad teams are looking to tank properly while still evaluating the pieces on the roster. Houston played the former in their win over Utah, and two of the latter against Golden State and New York.
The Memphis Grizzlies are a good team and are fighting for the eighth and final spot in the Western Conference. The Rockets are a good team with their sights set on the second spot in the West. That makes tonight a huge matchup for both teams, which Darren touched on earlier this week.
The Grizzlies will be missing Jaren Jackson Jr. and possibly Brandon Clarke, which will lessen their size advantage. Jonas Valanciunas has had some big games against Houston in the past and can score down low. Once again, today will be a test of Houston’s small ball lineup against a more traditional center. The Grizzlies can also throw a few defenders at James Harden, including Dillon Brooks, who had some success against Houston in the previous matchup.
Obviously, the star of the Grizzlies has been Ja Morant, who’s on a collision course with the Rookie of the Year award. He’s averaging 18 points and 7 assists to go along with 3 rebounds. He has a pretty complete offensive game for a rookie point guard and is only going to keep getting better. Tonight, he’ll match up against the player he was most often compared to coming out of college, Russell Westbrook.
Russ missed the first two games in this season series, but should be available tonight after missing Monday night’s game with a thumb issue. Eric Gordon is also listed as day-to-day for the Rockets. Houston should consider load managing him at this point since he’s going to be so vital to Houston’s success in the playoffs.