Grizzlies have more to prove, starting with Rockets

The Memphis Grizzlies have made significant strides this season in becoming one of, if not the best, young teams in the NBA.

Their 28-point home win over the Orlando Magic on Saturday vaulted them to second in the Western Conference standings. But the job isn’t yet complete for the Grizzlies, who have more to prove over their remaining 17 games in the regular season.

The proving ground begins Sunday when the Grizzlies play the second game of a back-to-back on the road against the scuffling Houston Rockets. Memphis is 2-0 against the Rockets this season.

However, Memphis is just 3-3 over its past six games following a stretch of nine wins in 10 games, and Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins has relentlessly pushed his squad.

“That’s been his message throughout: keep getting better one game at a time,” said Grizzlies guard Desmond Bane, who scored 24 points on 10-of-15 shooting and grabbed six rebounds against the Magic. “Often times teams start looking ahead at what possibly could come but just keep getting better one day at a time (is the focus).”

While Memphis’ All-Star guard Ja Morant has elevated himself into Most Valuable Player consideration with his stellar play, the Grizzlies have thrived by providing him ample support. In each of Memphis’ past four victories, its bench has outscored the opposition, with Grizzlies reserves tallying 50 points against Orlando.

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“I feel like our bench has been great all year,” Morant said after a game-high 25 points. “We have a lot of guys that can go score the basketball but also make plays for whoever else is out there for us on the floor. Credit goes to them for coming in and playing with confidence and for playing their game.”

The Rockets suffered their 12th consecutive loss Friday in Denver, falling 116-101 to the Nuggets. Denver was without MVP candidate Nikola Jokic (non-COVID illness) yet received 31 points, nine rebounds, four assists and three steals from reserve center DeMarcus Cousins.

Cousins’ dominant performance continued what has been a difficult week in the paint for Houston. The Rockets surrendered consecutive double-doubles to Clippers center Ivica Zubac before Jazz center Rudy Gobert posted 27 points and 17 rebounds in the Rockets’ overtime loss Wednesday. Zubac and Gobert combined for nine blocked shots in those three contests.

But issues in the paint offensively were linked to the Rockets’ ineffective shooting from the perimeter. Houston was just 22 of 49 in the paint in the second meeting with the Clippers and then went 10 of 36 on 3-pointers against the Nuggets, negating any progress on the interior.

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“Offensively when the 3s aren’t going we’ve got to be a paint team,” Rockets coach Stephen Silas said. “And we did a decent job, 50 points in the paint, but we made a few 3s late overall to get to 10. That’s not enough for our group.

“When the 3s aren’t going we’ve got to drive and get to the free-throw line. But yeah, when the 3s aren’t falling for our group it’s hard for us. It is.”

–Field Level Media

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