Two young upstart teams in the Western Conference face off tonight as Jeremy Lin and James Harden take the Linsanity tour to Graceland. Translation: The Houston Rockets head to Memphis tonight to take on the Grizzlies.
It's an interdivisional matchup, and both teams are entering the game with a mission. Houston is looking to snap a two-game losing streak after starting the season 2-0, while Memphis is looking to extend their winning streak to four games which, depending on certain circumstances, could push them into a tie for first place.
Both teams have a great group of young players capable of working some magic on the hardwood, particularly Lin and Harden for Houston. Since the epic trade that brought Harden aboard, the reigning Sixth Man of the Year is leading the NBA in scoring with 30.3 points per game.
Memphis, on the other hand, is a constantly improving squad with a balanced attack. From Marc Gasol to Rudy Gay to even Zach Randolph, this team has multiple go-to guys and is thus all the more difficult to defeat.
With both teams having so much to play for, both tonight and for the future, expect this one to be a dogfight.
Time: Friday, Nov. 9, 8:00 p.m., EST
Records: Houston (2-2) vs. Memphis (3-1)
Betting Line: Houston (+6 1/2), Memphis (-6 1/2)
Injuries: Darrell Arthur (leg)
Key Storyline: Linsanity Looks to Get Back On Track Against Hard-Charging Grizzlies
The Rockets have looked good despite being 2-2, but Jeremy Lin has struggled despite averaging 13 points and seven assists per game. The Harvard grad is shooting just 36 percent from the field and is struggling to find a balance between his scoring and fine defensive game.
Simply put, if the Rockets are going to contend in the highly competitive Western Conference, their clutch offense has to come from more than just James Harden. If Kevin McHale is committed to playing a run-and-gun-like game, then the entire team needs to step up.
Granted, all three of those teams aren't exactly top tier, but the Grizzlies are good enough that they can make mince meat out of any opponent they face. If they can stay committed to the tough defensive effort preached by coach Lionel Hollins, then their streak can surely continue.
Key Matchup: Jeremy Lin vs. Mike Conley
Considering how Lin's greatest weakness is his inconsistency on offense, it's not going to get any easier for him tonight. In Memphis, he's going to be guarded by Mike Conley, one of the best pests in the league.
Over his team's first four games, the former Ohio State Buckeye is averaging a career-best 14.3 points and seven assists per game, plus an incredible 2.3 steals.
Conley is smaller than Lin at 6'1", 185 pounds, but is by far a superior athlete. He drives to the basket, plays great defense and has a decent shot from long range, having shot 38 percent from three-point land for his career.
That said, given how Lin needs to improve his scoring consistency and ability to pick his shots wisely, the Harvard grad is going to be in for a long night in Memphis. Conley is going to stick to him like glue and make life very hard for him on offense.
X-Factor: Rudy Gay
Though this is his first season as a full-time starter, James Harden can take control of a game instantly. On Memphis' end, this means that Rudy Gay simply MUST have a good game.
The former UConn star is averaging 18.8 points and 6.3 rebounds this season, but has only shot 37 percent from the field. He'll have something of an advantage tonight, as he will probably be covered by 6'9" Chandler Parsons, and defense isn't exactly the former Gator's strongest suit.
Regardless of who is guarding Gay, however, he needs to find a way to take control of the game. This means relying more on drawing fouls on high-percentage shots and less on his jumper. He has shot 45 percent from the floor for his career, so we know that he is more than capable of this.
Of course, anything can happen in basketball, and there's always the chance that Gay will have a bad night. However, if he can turn on the afterburners and lead the Grizzlies with some help on the side from Marc Gasol or Zach Randolph, the Grizzlies' streak will continue.
The Rockets definitely have more to play for in tonight's game, as a loss would push them below .500 and extend their losing streak to three games. To win tonight, Jeremy Lin needs to work in tandem with Harden and be borderline perfect to help launch Houston towards a victory.
Who will win?
Unfortunately, while Lin will surely get his offense back on track this season, it's not going to be tonight. Memphis has just too many good defensive players at every position to let a team go off on them offensively. The fact that Zach Randolph, a pure scorer in the eyes of most, is leading the league with 15.3 rebounds per game is testament to this.
In the end, the size and balance that Memphis has will be enough to put Houston into desperation mode early. They'll be putting up shot after shot with hope that each will swish through the net, but the Grizzlies defense just won't let that happen.
Houston may make a run or two at some points during the game, but it just won't be enough by the time the final buzzer sounds.
Memphis Grizzlies 108, Houston Rockets 97