Monday, January 27, 2014

Rocket Launcher: The Grizzlies can use the weekend wins over Houston to launch into a tough week

Posted By on Mon, Jan 27, 2014 at 8:01 AM

Nick Calathes had a big game against the Rockets Saturday, racking up 11 points and 3 steals.
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Nick Calathes had a big game against the Rockets Saturday, racking up 11 points and 3 steals.

Going into the weekend, I thought it was possible that the Grizzlies could win both games against the Rockets—one home and one away—but that doesn't mean I thought it was likely.

When the Grizzlies won the first game in a close one (88-87) that came down to a couple of last-second possessions and some stifling defense (remember that?) from the Griz to end the game, no thanks to Chandler Parsons hitting ten three pointers in a row, my prediction for the second game was that it would be even uglier, even slower, and even closer. I was right... for one quarter.

Ultimately the Grizzlies won 99-81 after several minutes of garbage time. At one point with six minutes left, the Grizzlies led 90-63. The Rockets have been prone to shooting droughts as of late—I'm thinking specifically of this game against Oklahoma City in which they scored 73 points in the first half and 19 in the second—but that's not really what happened on Saturday night.

What happened is that the Grizzlies bludgeoned the Rockets into submission and ran away with the game. Zach Randolph, matched up on Dwight Howard for a good bit of the time and Terrence Jones for the rest of it, had 15 points and 17 rebounds. Kosta Koufos, who's been playing mostly spot minutes as of late, played 24 minutes and had 14 and 7. Marc Gasol only had 6 points, but his continuous frustration of Dwight Howard on both ends of the floor—something that's happened for years—made for delightful entertainment. According to the advanced stats, Howard had an offensive rating (ORtg) of 68 and a defensive rating of 95. Which is, umm, less than stellar.

I spent a lot of time this weekend creating this meticulous video recap of what happened to the Rockets in the second half on Saturday:

The Rockets are a good team. Good enough to be in fifth place in the West, currently. The Grizzlies came into Friday as the only team without a win over a divisional opponent, 0-10 to that point. As of now, their record still isn't good (2-10), but two straight wins over a quality opponent, one home and on the road, is a great way to build momentum going into the coming week.

The Week Ahead

I've already tried to spring bits of the Pounding the Rock Lexicon on you from time to time. The first example of that was using SEGABABA for the Second Game of a Back to Back.

Well, it's time to try out another one: what the Grizzlies are facing this week is a dreaded FOGAFINI, otherwise known as Four Games in Five Nights. Two back to backs with a single day of rest in between. Even more fun for the Grizzlies? The first three games are all on the road. Tuesday night at Portland, Wednesday night at Sacramento, Friday night at Minnesota, and then back home Saturday against the Milwaukee Bucks.

The only game that looks tough on paper is the Portland game. The Trail Blazers have been off-the-charts good this year, currently third place in the West with a 33-12 record. Portland is a tough place to play when the Blazers aren't very good, so right now it's probably more of a death trap than a basketball game. But... the Grizzlies have Marc Gasol, even if he's still not totally at ease on the court yet. They have two straight wins over Houston, which should give them a much-needed boost of confidence. The defense is finally starting to come online to an extent, even in the absence of Tony Allen. If they're going to go on the road and beat the Trail Blazers, this would be the time to do it.

Wednesday night in Sacramento is a game that should be easily winnable. The Grizzlies have historically not played well at Arco Sleep Train Arena, but they handled the Kings in a close one two weeks ago at home.

Minnesota handed the Grizzlies a home loss in December in the middle of a five-game losing streak that included the Thunder, Pelicans, Lakers, and Mavericks as well. This Grizzlies team has more than ten players, and since that loss, has added James Johnson and Courtney Lee to the mix, so I expect them to perform better. By Friday, though, fatigue is going to start to become an issue. If the Portland and Sacramento games are both close, hard-fought games—which I expect them to be—the Grizzlies will probably be less than tack sharp rolling in to Minneapolis on Friday.

If Friday doesn't go well, given the effort/intensity issues we've seen with this team for stretches this year, who knows what's going to happen on Saturday when the Milwaukee Bucks—led by Giannis "The Greek Freak" Antetokounmpo and an overweight, mostly disinterested O.J. Mayo—come to town.

The Grizzlies are going to be exhausted by Saturday. If they can tought out this stretch and win three out of the four games in the FOGAFINI (which I feel is very doable given the competition), they're currently two games back of Dallas for the 8th and final playoff spot, and equal in the loss column with 20. (Here's a link to the official NBA standings.) Winning more than half of the games this week—which presumably means winning at Sacramento, at Minnesota, and against the Bucks, and playing with house money against Portland because of the two Houston wins—would leave the Grizzlies in great shape headed into February and winding down to the All Star break.

With any luck, they'll capture 75% of the FOGAFINI and Dallas—who plays Houston on Wednesday and then the Kings and Cavs later, all at home—will drop a couple. If not, the grind continues either way.

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