The Memphis Grizzlies meet the Houston Rockets tonight in a battle of lower-seeded Western Conference playoff seeds. Memphis has been treading water and needs to get back on their A-game over the final stretch of the season, whereas Houston has kept up their high-octane offense all season and looks to continue their strong play.
These teams play entirely different styles in what should be a battle of will. Whichever team gives in and plays the other team's game should have the best chance of winning. Memphis ranks 26th in the league in scoring 93.6 points per game, whereas Houston ranks second at over 106 per game.
There will be some intriguing match-ups since these two teams are polar opposites. The game will be dictated not only on how the star players perform, but also which players can help dictate the pace of the game.
Omer Asik vs. Zach Randolph
Marc Gasol is out for the foreseeable future with an abdominal injury. Therefore, Asik will likely shift down to cover Randolph in what should be a fun matchup of low-post bruisers.
Asik is a solid defender down on the block and should be able to slow down Randolph a bit. Where he may struggle is if Z-Bo can get hot with his mid-range game. If he can pull Asik away from the basket consistently, it will take away Houston's biggest interior presence and leave many driving lanes open for Memphis' guards.
Watching these two battle on the boards will be a sight to see. Each is in the top five in the NBA in rebounding this season. Asik needs to keep Randolph in check on the perimeter and Randolph needs to make sure Asik doesn't get on a roll on the glass. It should be a great match-up.
Jeremy Lin vs. Mike Conley
Even though Memphis has struggled lately, Conley has been killing it. He has elevated his game in the month of March as he has taken on an increased role without Rudy Gay. He has scored over 20 points in five of their last six games, going for a season high 26 in their last game.
The opposite is true of Lin. He has scored a total of 18 points in the last three games with an 11-15 turnover to assist ratio. Linsanity has been but a distant memory.
The point guard match-up will be crucial, as Conley must continue to put up big numbers in the wake of Marc Gasol's injury. If Lin can overcome his recent struggles and avoid turning the ball over too much against the NBA's second-leading steals man, it would prove to be tremendously beneficial to the Rockets.
Tony Allen vs. James Harden
This will be the most crucial match-up of all. Tony Allen is not a big offensive threat, as he scores just under nine points per game. He has one task tonight.
Stop. James. Harden.
Allen is regarded as one of the top perimeter defenders in basketball, if not the best. He will have his hands full with the bearded one to say the least. Harden is a top-five scorer in this league and is the catalyst for this team. They follow his lead, and when he gets hot, it often has a domino effect on the entire team. Before you know it, they have 130 points on the board. That is how devastating Houston can be.
While stopping these guys will be a team effort, it starts with Allen. He must slow down Harden and force him to pass more than he would like, although with Chandler Parsons, Jeremy Lin and Carlos Delfino, he has plenty of other shooters to defer to.
Regardless, if Memphis is to come out on top tonight and put an end to this short lull they have succumbed to, Allen must pester Harden all night.