The recent emergence of Rockets second-year center Isaiah Hartenstein has developed beyond a plucky narrative, with Hartenstein providing Houston something far more substantial.
Hartenstein has earned the additional minutes he has received of late, making the most of the time available with starting center Clint Capela battling a bothersome heel injury.
Even if Capela is unable to provide his customary double-double against the host Memphis Grizzlies on Tuesday, the Rockets have grown confident that Hartenstein can fill the void.
"He knows how to play, and he's got energy," Rockets coach Mike D'Antoni said of Hartenstein. "He can really get James (Harden) free by getting energy pick-and-rolls early in the half court and James going down court. There's a lot of things that Isaiah (does) that's hard to teach, hard to coach it -- he just does it. He knows how to do it."
Hartenstein produced his second career double-double in his second career start last Saturday, posting 17 points and 15 rebounds along with a career-best five blocked shots in the Rockets' 139-109 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves. Over his last three games when he has played at least 20 minutes, Hartenstein is averaging 15 points and 12.3 rebounds.
Initially tasked with merely offering hustle and solid picks, Hartenstein has started to give the Rockets something more. Yet, Houston guard Russell Westbrook is committed to reminding Hartenstein of what earned him the opportunity to play critical minutes in the first place.
"He talks a lot to me, especially after every game," Hartenstein said. "He'll come down and talk to me. Like, after last game, he just told me he wants me to be -- every time on the floor he wants me to be the hardest worker out there. I take that very personally. And now every time I go out there, I try to be the hardest worker out there."
Staying the course of accelerated play is paramount for Memphis, which has won five consecutive games and is 12-6 since a Dec. 7 loss at Utah marked its ninth defeat in 10 games.
Laden with youth, the Grizzlies have leaned fully into the advantage derived from vigor. Memphis entered Monday third in the NBA in pace, averaging 103.3 possessions per 48 minutes. Of the six Grizzlies averaging 20-plus minutes, five are 27 or younger, with dynamic 20-year-olds Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. leading the way.
The veteran Rockets will seek to take advantage of Memphis' inexperience. The Grizzlies need to advance the identity they have cultivated with their revitalized play.
"Honestly, [we are] continuing to focus on us," Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins said. "Obviously, they're going to present their unique challenges. Harden, the best scorer in the league, there's going to be a lot of focus obviously on him. But for us, it's about going out and continuing our momentum of what we've been working on.
"Defensively maybe using some different schemes, but all things we've been working on, just trusting in that. And offensively, continue to play with a great pace," Jenkins said, pointing to Sunday night's 122-102 win over the Golden State Warriors when the Grizzlies had 30-plus fast-break points.
"Can we get that? We're not going to get that every, single night but you try to make that a priority and continue to rack up as many assists as possible. It's doing what we do at a high level against a really good team and seeing what kind of energy and juice that we have," Jenkins said.
--Field Level Media