Grizzlies-Rockets Preview


The defensive-minded Memphis Grizzlies are back on track following an undefeated homestand.

However, continuing down that path could be a challenge given their recent struggles at Houston.

Winners of four straight, the Southwest Division-leading Grizzlies will try to end a 12-game losing streak visiting the Rockets on Saturday night.

Memphis (18-6) is giving up a league-low 89.2 points per game, but the team has really clamped down defensively since a season-worst three-game skid, holding its last four opponents to an average of 79.8 points.

Grizzlies guard Tony Allen, a member of the NBA all-defensive first team last season, deserves as much credit as anyone for this success. He held Milwaukee's Monta Ellis to four points on Wednesday and Dallas' leading scorer O.J. Mayo to 10 on Friday in a 92-82 victory.

"I told Tony: 'You're going to guard (Mayo) whenever he is in the game,'" said coach Lionel Hollins, whose team hasn't allowed 100 points since a 101-92 season-opening loss at the Los Angeles Clippers. "... They had some other people score, but it wasn't the same as when he is playing.''

The Rockets (13-12) find themselves in a similar position. While Jeremy Lin and Chandler Parsons both have 30-point games this season, their success has largely hinged on how often James Harden, the team leader with 25.4 points per game, is putting the ball in the basket.

Houston is 6-1 when he scores at least 30.

"James is kind of the head of the spear,'' coach Kevin McHale said after Harden hit a career-high 17 free throws and scored 33 points in Wednesday's 125-103 win over Philadelphia. "He's the guy that takes us out and gets us going.''

Harden is averaging 29.9 points and has made 76 of 82 from the foul line over his last seven games. He trails only Los Angeles Lakers center Dwight Howard in free-throw attempts per game with 9.9.

"He holds the ball low with his strong hands and gets a lot of foul calls," said Parsons, who led the Rockets with 19 points in a 93-85 loss at Memphis on Nov. 9.

Harden hit 9 of 10 free throws in that loss, but Allen held him to 4-of-18 shooting and 18 points.

Houston, among the league's best offenses with 104.8 points per game, matched its season low in scoring.

The Grizzlies could use a similar defensive effort as they eye their first victory at Houston since April 15, 2006.

Houston, though, is going for a season high-tying third straight victory and fifth win in six games.

"I can see us starting to build a little momentum," McHale said. "We've got to continue this now and we've got a tough game. Our next game against Memphis is going to be tough."

Lin and Toney Douglas have a tough matchup with Mike Conley, whose 11 assists on Friday made him the Grizzlies' all-time leader with 2,079, but teams that have been able to pressure Memphis' point guard have enjoyed some success. The Grizzlies are 2-5 when Conley has four or more turnovers and 11-0 when he has two or fewer.

Conley committed two turnovers last month against Houston.

Grizzlies leading scorer Rudy Gay, a former Rockets draft pick, scored a team-best 21 points in that game while teammate Zach Randolph, the NBA double-double leader with 20, finished with 15 points and 14 boards.