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Rockets vs. Grizzlies game preview: the future meets the...present?

Houston Rockets v Memphis Grizzlies Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

Writer’s Note: I am writing this preview before Houston’s game against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Wednesday night. Back-to-backs are tough on the preview writers too.

When I think of the current iteration of the Memphis Grizzlies, I’m conditioned by the media to think of a few things: Ja Morant and...uh...other players?

In all seriousness, if it feels like Morant is the only player on the Grizzlies, that’s because that’s all anyone hears about when it comes to Memphis. The mercurial guard is awesome and deservedly won Rookie of the Year honors for last season. What was expected to be a difficult year full of learning turned into a playoff chase, with the Grizzlies finishing ninth in the West and knocked out in the play-in round by Portland.

Of course, there are other players on the Grizzlies, though it is funny to imagine Morant somehow playing 1-on-5 and holding his own. Dillon Brooks has made himself known to Rockets fans by defending James Harden with aplomb. Brooks signed a 3-year, $35 million extension last year. Brooks’s shooting has gone down to 31% from deep this season, but he’s a career 36% shooter from three so eventually he’ll figure it out.

Jonas Valanciunas is also on the Grizzlies, but has missed the team’s last four games due to COVID protocols. There is no word yet on if he’ll return for tonight’s contest. Kyle Anderson and De’Anthony Melton are familiar sights for Rockets fans, for different reasons. Anderson spent his early years in San Antonio, while Melton was drafted by Houston before being traded to Phoenix in the Ryan Anderson Trade Dump of 2018. Gorgui Dieng and Tyus Jones played together in Minnesota, and now they play together in Memphis. Desmond Bane, Xavier Tillman, and John Konchar will also get minutes.

The last player on the Grizzlies that I’ll mention is my favorite, and that’s Brandon Clarke. As a Gonzaga fan, I watched Clarke in his lone year with the Bulldogs. Listen to this statistic: Clarke had as many blocks that year as his did missed shots (117). That’s a real thing. And it’s ridiculous. There were a lot of questions coming into the draft about whom Clarke could defend at the NBA level. After about five minutes, the answer became clear: he would defend all of them. Clarke has also made the injuries to Jaren Jackson Jr. a bit easier to handle for the Grizzlies. Like Brooks, he hasn’t gotten off to the greatest of starts, but it’s still early and he was already playing better basketball during Memphis’s recent 7-game win streak.

For Houston, John Wall should be available after sitting out the front end of the back-to-back last night against the Thunder. Victor Oladipo will miss tonight’s game for what amounts to load management.

Tip-off is at 8pm CT on AT&T SportsNet Southwest