The Houston Rockets and Memphis Grizzlies clash in Memphis as the two teams fight for playoff positioning down the final stretch of the NBA season. The high-octane offense of the Rockets will look to take advantage of an uncharacteristically struggling Grizzlies defense Friday night.
The Grizzlies have hung their hats on their defense all season and own the second rated defense in the league. On average, they've allowed only 90 points per game (or, 100.9 points per game per 100 possessions). However, over the last three games they've given up over 100 points to each of their opponents -- the first time such a stretch has existed for the Grizzlies this season. A bad omen with one of the best offenses in the league coming to town.
Houston has been all systems go since restructuring its roster drastically over the summer. The Rockets have the second-rated offense in points per game (106.1), the sixth-ranked offensive efficiency (109.9), and the fastest pace in the league (96). A huge turnaround from last season where they finished out of the playoffs.
It was clear that Houston needed a facelift to move past the glory days of Yao Ming, and general manager Daryl Morey snatched up Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin before trading for James Harden. Now, the Rockets are on the cusp of clinching a playoff spot in the extremely competitive Western Conference.
The Rockets have pulled away from the eighth seed (currently the Los Angeles Lakers) and are in pursuit of the Golden State Warriors for the sixth seed. The Warriors are clinging onto a one-game lead while the Rockets have gone 10-6 since the All-Star break. It would take a catastrophic collapse for them to fall out of the playoffs, or even the eighth seed, but the bottom end of the Western Conference playoffs has remained a fluid picture with the Utah Jazz, Dallas Mavericks, and Lakers all still in reach of Houston.
On the other end of the spectrum, the Grizzlies are in the middle of an intense battle between the third through fifth seeds in the West. Only 1.5 games separate the Grizzlies, Los Angeles Clippers, and Denver Nuggets. Memphis is currently the fifth seed out West but could finish as high as third should they steady out their defense and finish out the season strong.
In such a competitive conference the difference between home-court advantage and being on the other end could be enough to tilt the scales of elimination. In particular, when looking at a potential match up against the Nuggets, keeping home court away from Denver can be a huge factor. The Grizzlies are 28-8 at home, a respectable record but not eye-popping. Denver, meanwhile, is tied for the best home record in the league at 32-3.
Worth noting in this is the fact that Denver's Ty Lawson was diagnosed with a torn plantar fascia in his heel and will be considered day-to-day going forward, providing a window for Memphis to leap over Denver at the very least while still being in range of the Clippers.
While lottery teams prepare to wrap up their seasons the stakes are only getting higher from here on out for teams still in the hunt. Playoff positioning remains key, and once that rush is over it's time for the playoffs.
Odds: Grizzlies favored +5.5, via OddsShark.com
Game time: 8:00 p.m. EDT