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Rockets vs. Grizzlies Preview and Predictions

The Houston Rockets (40-24 SU, 29-35 ATS) are committed to going "small," having dealt away center Clint Capela and creating more space on the floor for the team's two superstars. They hope that they can improve the perimeter defense enough to be a real factor in the playoffs.

The Memphis Grizzlies (32-33 SU, 34-30-1 ATS) are going to be playing after the seeding games are over; the only question is whether they are going to have play a series just to get into the regular bracket. With five teams chasing them to get within four games (the NBA requirement), that is a realistic possibility.

These teams will play an NBA scrimmage on Sunday night, which will take place at the HP Field House on the campus of the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex near Orlando
TV: NBA TV, 8 PM ET.  LINE: n/a   O/U: n/a

ABOUT THE HOUSTON ROCKETS: The smaller lineup is beneficial to the Rockets for a couple of reasons - certainly it gives them more of an opportunity to clear up things in the lane so that Russell Westbrook and James Harden can do what they do best, which is to operate in isolation mode and make a move to the hoop. Secondly, as general manager Daryl Morey had told a USA Today reporter, when asked about the defensive difficulties such a lineup might have against bigger squads, "I'd say the other coach is even more afraid sitting there wondering how the hell they are going to play their big guy, who has no one to guard." In February, this configuration helped Westbrook, often an erratic shooter, hit 40% from three-point range. And incidentally, while the Rockets may concede some inside shots, they have more flexibility to guard opponents out on the perimeter when they go small. And with 6-7 Robert Covington (an NBA All-Defensive team member) in or near the paint, there's a guy who can block shots with a vengeance. It is Morey's opinion that a team's defensive approach has to start at the perimeter and work to cut off driving lanes, rather than focusing on "rim protection." Questions have been brought up as to how opponents might use special defenses against Harden, including trapping him at half-court to make him give the ball up. Head coach Mike D'Antoni isn't concerned, confident that "James will figure it out, one way or another" and that he doesn't even run drills with those scenarios during practice. Besides, with Westbrook as an all-world option, and the floor well spread out, any opponent can put itself into big trouble that way.


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ABOUT THE MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES:  For Justise Winslow, the season ended before it really began. Winslow, who was acquired in a trade with Miami that involved Andre Iguodala, suffered a hip injury during practice that will prevent him from participating until next season. He had already sustained a back injury that limited him to just eleven games with the Heat. He could have been a great role player because he knows how to defend at the NBA level, but now head coach Taylor Jenkins needs people to fill that void. Josh Jackson, the former Phoenix Sun and G-Leaguer, played 18 games for the team, averaging 10.4 points. And he has certainly shown a willingness to play defense. he would seem to be a prime candidate not only to get important minutes in the scrimmages, but also in the seeding games. Memphis' chief concern there is not collapsing and falling below ninth place. Otherwise, they will probably be in a two-game "play-in" series with either Portland, New Orleans, San Antonio, Sacramento or Phoenix. Under the current format, the ninth-place team, if within four games of #8, must sweep both games of the play-in to elevate and join the main playoff bracket. The Grizzlies like to push the ball up the floor with Ja Morant (seventh in the league in "Pace"), but they also have to develop something that is dangerous in the half-court. Morant can penetrate, but they may have to attempt more triples than the 31.1 per game they've had. Increased minutes for people like Grayson Allen (Duke alum) or John Konchar (41.6% from the arc in college at Fort Wayne) could be in the offing. Who knows - maybe the "grizzled" veteran  of the team, 34-year-old combo forward Anthony Tolliver, can help in the midst of this youth movement. He was 43.6% from three-point range for the Detroit Pistons just a couple of seasons ago.

EXTRA POINTS

1. During February, Russell Westbrook and James Harden became the first teammates in NBA history to average at least 30 points and five assists during one calendar month.

2. Houston's Austin Rivers had to leave the NBA bubble due to what was termed a "family emergency." Upon his return, he can't practice again until he goes through at least four days of protocols.

3. In games in which James Harden has scored at least 40 points, the Rockets have a 17-2 record.

PREDICTION & PICK BY GAMEADVISERS:  Rockets 110, Grizzlies 103

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Last Injuries

Memphis Grizzlies

  • Andre Iguodala

    Hip
    day-to-day | questionable

    Iguodala is managing soreness in his left hip, and his return is up in the air.

  • Jae Crowder

    Knee
    day-to-day | questionable

    Crowder did not play the previous game due to a right knee contusion, and his return has yet to be determined.

  • Tyus Jones

    Knee
    Late Aug | out

    Jones is hampered by right knee soreness, and he is expected to be out of action until at least the end of August.

  • Jarrod Uthoff

    Undisclosed
    Prob Wed | probable

    Uthoff was held out of the last two games due to an unspecified reason, but it is unlikely to interfere with his status for Wednesday's matchup with the 76ers.

  • Jontay Porter

    Knee
    Prob Sun | probable

    Porter is on the mend from surgery to repair a torn ACL and MCL in his right knee. He is expected to return to the lineup Sunday against the Spurs.

Houston Rockets

  • Danuel House Jr.

    Toe
    day-to-day | questionable

    House Jr. has missed the last three games with a left toe sprain, and his return is unknown.

  • Russell Westbrook

    Quadricep
    Out indefinitely | out

    Westbrook is sidelined with a strained right quad muscle, and team officials have yet to provide an exact return date.

  • Eric Gordon

    Ankle
    Prob Wed | probable

    Gordon has been sidelined with a left ankle sprain, but is expected to make his return Wednesday against the Pacers.

  • James Harden

    Rest
    Out Tues | out

    Harden will receive a day of rest and will not suit up Tuesday versus the Spurs.

  • Bruno Caboclo

    Ankle
    Out Sun | out

    Caboclo has sat out the past three games due to a sprained right ankle, and he will not return Sunday against the Kings.

  • DeMarre Carroll

    Hamstring
    Prob Sun | probable

    Carroll missed the last game with a hamstring injury, but it is expected that he will play against the Bucks on Sunday.

  • Austin Rivers

    Personal
    day to day | questionable

    Rivers was away from the team due to a personal matter. He has returned and is likely to line up in Friday's matchup versus the Mavericks.