The Rockets have had a couple of days off to enjoy a playoff berth that was locked up Tuesday night, thanks to a fortuitous goaltending call on a James Harden 3-pointer as time expired. They won’t have much time to sit back and enjoy the franchise’s first playoff berth since 2009 though, as Memphis brings a dangerous and physical defensive force to a game that may hold more meaning for the home team.
This will be a game decided by which team takes the other out of their natural flow and does a better job at dictating the tempo of the game.
The Rockets play at a blistering pace and lead the NBA in scoring with a league-high 106.2 points per game. This couldn’t be further from the style the Grizzlies like to play, with the league’s stingiest defense (89.5 points per game allowed) and certainly not a dynamic offensive threat at 93.6 points per game.
If the Rockets can keep the game at a break-neck pace and run the score up, they shouldn’t have too much trouble with the Grizzlies at home. The Grizzlies do a great job of dictating the tempo and knocking higher scoring foes out of rhythm, and if they keep the Rockets at a plodding and physical pace, it may be a long night for Houston on Friday.
While the Grizzlies’ playoff picture is all but locked up with a first round matchup running through Staples Center and the Los Angeles Clippers, there is still a great deal hanging in the balance for the Rockets. Houston is currently sitting in the dreaded seven-hole in the Western Conference Playoff picture, and a meeting with either the Oklahoma City Thunder or San Antonio Spurs is looming.
They are currently only a game back of the Golden State Warriors for the sixth spot, a position the team would love to occupy entering the playoffs. Overtaking the Warriors would likely ensure a first-round meeting with the Denver Nuggets, one which is much more winnable now with Danilo Gallinari done for the season with a torn ACL.
Friday’s game is certainly a contest of huge importance for the Rockets and if scorers Harden and Jeremy Lin have big nights against the imposing Memphis defense, the Rockets will cruise in Houston.