Houston vs Memphis: Rocket ‘Til the Wheels Fall Off

The Memphis Grizzlies (1-4) welcome the Houston Rockets (3-3) to FedExForum after a 114-105 loss to the Phoenix Suns on Saturday. The Rockets are on the second night of a back-to-back, coming off of a 129-100 loss to the Miami Heat. 

Another game, another second half collapse for the Grizzlies. This loss against the Suns has a little bit of extra sting though, as we got to visit our old friend, the injury report.

Both Jaren Jackson Jr. and Grayson Allen sustained injuries in Saturday’s contest that will more than likely keep them out of the Rockets game. This will test the depth of the Grizzlies roster, and will likely give players such as DeAnthony Melton and Bruno Caboclo extended minutes and a chance to crack the regular rotation. This will also give head coach Taylor Jenkins further opportunities to tinker with rotations and lineups in an effort to find what clicks as far as production goes. 

Speaking of Coach Jenkins, it’s worth noting several trends have become apparent through the team’s first 5 games, most notably pertaining to minutes distribution. Only one player averages more than 30 minutes per game (Jae Crowder 30.6 MPG) and only two regular rotation players (Grayson Allen and Marko Guduric) average less than 20 MPG. This shows not only an effort to preserve player’s legs (as noted Coach Jenkins when speaking with the Commercial Appeal) but it also gives the coaching staff an opportunity to better evaluate some of the rotation players on the roster. It’s way easier to evaluate a player if they get 20 minutes a game as opposed to 7 or 8. 

Coach Jenkins will hope to find the winning combination against the Houston Rockets on Monday. Houston made a huge splash this offseason in acquiring former MVP Russell Westbrook from Oklahoma City, giving up Chris Paul in the process. However, since Westbrook is sitting this contest out due to load management, we will go into more detail about how he impacts the Rockets and how he fits their roster the next time the Grizzlies and Rockets play each other. For now, we will focus on who we will see Monday night, most notably being former MVP James Harden. 

James Harden is, to put it mildly, one of the most polarizing figures in the NBA. Not necessarily because of any off the court activity, but because of how he plays the game.

Harden is one of the most talented players in the league, a gifted scorer who also is an underrated playmaker and passer. He also gets to the free throw line seemingly at will, averaging over 15 free throw attempts per game, far and away the most in the league. 

This is where the “polarizing” part comes into play. 

Harden, and the Rockets organization as a whole, are adamant about finding any possible way to win. Normally when one thinks of the phrase “any way to win” thoughts of a player sacrificing life and limb for his team through blood, sweat, and tears comes to mind. In the Rockets case, “any way to win” means taking the NBA rulebook and stretching it to its absolute limit and then some, forcing NBA referees into unenviable situations where a whistle must be blown in order to protect the integrity of the NBA rulebook, even if means damaging the integrity of the game of basketball. 

I’d like to drop a link to an article named “Metacrisis: How Warriors vs Rockets is the Referendum We Dread.” This article was written during the Warriors vs Rockets playoff series this past year, and it goes into heavy detail into the Rockets organization-wide, analytically driven search to find a way to win, spirit of the game be damned. But to sum it up, the Rockets will draw an inordinate amount of free throws if it means getting production, no matter how ugly it gets. And Memphis has a tendency to foul a pretty good bit so far this season. 

I’m just going to put it bluntly. This game is probably going to suck. And not from a “I hope my team wins but they probably won’t” point of view. If you thought watching Anthony Davis shoot a bunch of free throws in the third quarter of the Grizzlies–Lakers game was rough, picture that for the whole game. I try my best to be subjective in these previews, but the analytically driven, cold hard numbers, “don’t care about how you feel what we do is in the rulebook” approach the Rockets have draws a lot of hate. And it’s easy to see why, it’s subjectively an unaesthetic, frustratingly tedious style. 

But it works. 

Perhaps the Rockets will get cold from three again, like they have in several games this season, and the Grizzlies can sneak out a win. And that should be the mentality that the Grizzlies have, that is in line with the Rockets, to find “any way to win.” Hopefully the execution differs from the Rockets approach, but the sediment is the same. As for tonight’s game in general though, I’ll leave you with a quote from good ole J.R. 

“This one’s looking like it’s gonna be bowling shoe ugly.” 

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