Friday, November 9, 2012

Game 5 Preview: Grizzles vs. Rockets

Posted By on Fri, Nov 9, 2012 at 9:00 AM

The Grizzlies face off tonight against the 2-2 division rival Houston Rockets to kick off what should be a fascinating weekend at FedExForum. This game became a whole lot more interesting — for better or worse in terms of making the conference and the division even more competitive — when the Rockets acquired James Harden from the Oklahoma City Thunder, pairing him with Jeremy Lin for one of the NBA's most colorful and potentially dynamic backcourts.

Three things I'll be watching tonight:

James Harden
  • Bill Baptist NBAE/Getty Images
  • James Harden
1. James Harden vs. Tony Allen: The Main Event. Harden is leading the league in scoring at 30.3 points per game. Allen is a reigning first-team All-Defense member who is sure to have his gas up for this one. As the theoretical third option for the Thunder, Harden didn't always draw Allen as a defender, who was often dealing with Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook instead. He'll have him tonight. This will be a fascinating game-within-the-game, but I wouldn't assume it will be great for the Grizzlies. Two concerns: The hype around Harden could have Allen running a little too hot. And Harden's crafty, herky-jerky ball-handling skill — much like Manu Ginobili — makes him the kind of wing scorer with which Allen has been more likely to struggle. But this alone is worth being in the building for. And it'll be important, since the Rockets have been heavily dependent on Harden for points, with his scoring average more than three times that of Houston's current number two scorer (Patrick Patterson at 13.0).

2. Linsanity's Local Debut: The Intriguing Undercard. The Grizzlies missed Lin during his monumental breakout with the Knicks last season, and the young point guard will make his FedExForum debut with the hype considerably reduced. I'll be interested to see if Lin's presence affects any change in the typical Forum crowd. But I'll also be interested in the undercard battle between Lin and Mike Conley. Conley's individual defense is been improved this season and he should match-up reasonably well with the bigger Lin. Conley is also one of the league's great thieves and Lin tends to be turnover prone.

3. Can Omer Asik Keep the Dam from Breaking?: The Grizzlies' three-man frontcourt rotation dominated against Milwaukee Wednesday night, with Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol, and Marreese Speights combining for 50 points and 31 rebounds on 21-33 shooting. The Grizzlies didn't face a defender of the caliber of new Rockets center Omer Asik in that game, though. The seven-foot defensive anchor never averaged more than 15 minutes a game before this season, but he's been on the floor for 31.5 minutes a night for the Rockets so far, averaging 1.3 blocks and a third-in-the-league 14.0 rebounds per game (Randolph is first at 15.3). Asik is one of the league's very best defender, but will he be enough against the deep, dynamic post play with which the Grizzlies will be attacking the Rockets? He might have to be. The rest of the Rockets frontcourt rotation includes two stretch fours (Patrick Patterson and Marcus Morris), two raw backup centers (Cole Aldrich and Greg Smith) and two rookie forwards who haven't been playing (Terrence Jones and Royce White).

Should be a good one. I'll be on the scene tonight and will be tweeting during the game and filing a blog notebook after.


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