These two teams have faced off twice already this season, on Nov. 9 and Dec. 22, and a win in this third matchup would provide one team the upper hand in the season series. Seeing as how the Rockets need to fight off the Los Angeles Lakers and have still yet to clinch a playoff spot, they'll definitely be playing with an extra bounce in their step.
However, the game is at FedEx Forum, and Houston has visibly struggled on the road this season. Compared to a 25-11 mark at home, the team has gone just 14-21 on the road.
A battle of offense versus defense is thus set to go down, and it's one that fans won't want to miss.
Time: Friday, March 29, 8 p.m. ET
TV: CSN Houston, SportSouth
Records: Houston Rockets (39-32) vs. Memphis Grizzlies (47-24)
Injuries: Francisco Garcia (illness, day-to-day), via ESPN
Key Storyline: Rockets Seek to Inch Closer to Playoff Spot with Memphis Win
Houston has won three of four, while Memphis has lost three of four. But to say that one team has the upper hand would be untrue. The Rockets lost the first meeting against the Grizzlies on November 9, as Rudy Gay (now with the Toronto Raptors) led with 21 points en route to a 93-85 Memphis victory.
Fast forward to Dec. 22 at the Toyota Center, where Houston ran the table in a 121-96 victory, thanks to 31 points from star shooting guard James Harden.
Where defense ruled in the first game, offense did the same in the second.
Houston needs to ensure that the latter happens for this third round, even if it is on the road. The Rockets are second in points per game with 106.1 per contest, while Memphis second in points allowed at just 90 per game.
With a rowdy Tennessee crowd cheering the Grizzlies on, the pendulum will definitely be in the home team's favor from the get-go. This means that the Rockets must be in full communication on offense and not let Memphis' tough on-ball defense get to them.
On top of that, with the Grizzlies already guaranteed a playoff spot, the team must also hope (and this is incredibly unlikely) that Memphis is just a little bit on autopilot.
In a game featuring a clash of styles, fans would definitely be wise to tune in.
Key Matchup: Tony Allen vs. James Harden
The Rockets are all about playing fast-paced offense, led by All-Star shooting guard James Harden. In his first year with Houston, as well as his first as a starter, Harden has posted 26.2 points, 5.9 assists and 1.9 steals per game. He has also managed to shoot 44.5 percent from the field and 38 percent from long range.
The former Arizona State Sun Devil has averaged 24.2 points, 5.4 assists and two steals over his last five games, but he's experienced some shooting woes. While he has made 39 percent of his threes, he has shot just 35 percent from the field.
Harden needs to break out of that funk if Houston is to beat Memphis, but that's not going to be at all easy. In all likelihood, he'll be matched up against one of the league's best pests in Tony Allen.
Allen is only averaging 8.9 points and 4.7 rebounds per game. And he is just 6'4", 213 pounds, compared to Harden, who is 6'5", 220 pounds. But his on-ball defense is off the charts. He has posted 1.5 steals per game on the season, plus 1.8 over his last five games.
That will be the name of Allen's game all night long when it comes to Harden. As tough as it may be, he needs to lock down the Rockets star from start to finish, not allowing him any opportunities.
Contrastingly, Harden needs to do all he can to fight past Allen's defense and be a factor for his team. Otherwise, the Rockets will almost certainly lose to Memphis on the road again.
X-Factor: Chandler Parsons
After enjoying a hot streak that lasted a little over a month, Chandler Parsons has cooled off—and not in the good way. The second-year forward has posted 15.1 points and 5.4 rebounds per game while shooting 48 percent from the field and 38 percent from long range. But his last five games have not been what has come to be expected of him.
Over that stretch, Parsons is averaging just 12.6 points and 5.8 boards, shooting 38.5 percent from the field and 17 percent from long range. Considering how he has proven able to make shots from virtually anywhere on the floor this season, one can see why it is important for the former Florida Gator to be in top form against Memphis.
Parsons simply needs to go into beast mode in this game, as hard as that may be. He must drive the lane and draw fouls on top of being a threat from long range. Moreover, he must continue to create off the dribble and get back to being the offensive force he was just a few weeks ago.
If he can get hot quickly and maintain that type of pace, then Houston has a chance. If not, then a victory becomes even more of an uphill battle for the Rockets.
Predicted Starting Lineups
PG: Jeremy Lin
SG: James Harden
SF: Chandler Parsons
PF: Donatas Motiejunas
C: Omer Asik
PG: Mike Conley Jr.
SG: Tony Allen
SF: Tayshaun Prince
PF: Zach Randolph
C: Marc Gasol
The Rockets would love to have this game, but it's just not going to happen. The team has just struggled too much on the road, and Memphis' defense speaks for itself.
James Harden will lead the team in scoring, but Tony Allen's excellent shutdown defense will ensure that his percentage woes continue. Chandler Parsons will break out of his funk, but it won't be enough to bring Houston a victory with Harden continuing to struggle.
As a result, thanks to strong nights from Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph, each of whom will come away with double-doubles, the Grizzlies will win this game and continue to prepare for a long and prosperous playoff run.
Memphis Grizzlies 97, Houston Rockets 91
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