The Houston Rockets (9-5) are in Memphis tonight to face the Grizzlies (7-6) for the first of four meetings between the Southwest division foes. Each is among the 13 western conference teams at or above .500 heading into play on Monday night. That is a pretty good indicator that things are not only tightly packed together now in the standings, but could very easily stay that way for the entire season.
Memphis will try to keep pace with the Rockets and the rest of the west without reigning Defensive Player of the Year Marc Gasol, who went down on Friday night with a knee injury. After undergoing an MRI, the Grizzlies said he is out indefinitely with a Grade 2 sprain of the MCL in his left knee.
Gasol has missed only four games over the last three seasons and his likely replacement is 7-footer Kosta Koufos, who was added via trade from Denver this offseason and is averaging 6.0 points and 4.6 rebounds in 17.3 minutes a game. Koufos started 81 games last season for the Nuggets. Gasol is the team’s third leading scorer at 16 points per game and their second leading rebounder at 7.1 rebounds per game.
Houston has really struggled in Memphis recently, losing their last five games there. In Houston’s most recent game there last March, the Rockets came in as the second-highest scoring team in the league at 106.1 points per game, but only scored 94 in a 103-94 defeat.
Houston enters Monday night’s game atop the league in scoring at 109.1 points per game. They are near the top of league in several other categories as well, shooting percentage (.485, third), rebounds per game (46.79, third) and blocked shots (7.14, third).
But the two other categories where the Rockets rank first shine the light on some areas of concern. They are first in the league in turnovers at 19.07 per game and also first in free throws attempted per game at 35.64.
They are actually way out front in free throw attempts, averaging more than six more free throw attempts per game than the next closest team. They problem with this is the Rockets 70.5 free throw shooting percentage is better than only five other teams. The good news is that they are trending positively, having shot 70.5 percent or better in five straight games. They shot below 70 percent seven times in nine games to start the season.
James Harden was held to only seven points in his last game in Memphis and that was the only game he failed to reach double figures in scoring all season among games he started and finished.
Harden is not expected to play tonight while he continues to rest and rehab his sore left foot. Harden missed the Rockets last game as well, a 112-101 win over Minnesota in which the Rockets set a season high in 3-pointers made with 17, but also in turnovers with 24.