Grizzlies try to end skid at home vs. Rockets
Finally part of a roster replete with talent and, of equal significance, healthy bodies, Houston Rockets guard James Harden is now afforded the opportunity to share some of the scoring burden.
While continuing to struggle with his shot from behind the arc, Harden nevertheless produced his fifth consecutive double-double for Houston on Tuesday, pairing 31 points with 10 assists in a 121-105 win over the Atlanta Hawks that marked the Rockets' 12th victory in 13 games.
The Rockets will visit the Memphis Grizzlies on Wednesday seeking a four-game season-series sweep of their Southwest Division rival. Barring the unexpected, Harden, averaging 35.9 points per game, will win his second consecutive scoring title. He has slowed down of late, averaging 29.8 points on 29.1 percent 3-point shooting during his double-double streak but has supplemented his performances with an average of 10.2 assists. Harden has produced double-digit assists in five consecutive games; he posted 10 assists just once over his prior 23 games.
Even while pursuing the most favorable postseason seed possible, with an outside shot at the top overall seed held by the Golden State Warriors, Rockets coach Mike D'Antoni has initiated the process of resting his regulars during the stretch run. On Sunday against the Minnesota Timberwolves, Kenneth Faried and Austin Rivers sat. Against the Hawks, Iman Shumpert rested.
Veteran point guard Chris Paul recorded his second consecutive double-double with 13 points and 11 assists against the Hawks after resting during a win against the Phoenix Suns last Friday.
"You go (with) the way they feel and the way they feel the game," D'Antoni said of implementing flexible minutes restrictions. "They're professionals. They know what to do."
Said Paul: "I don't think we're too worried about the minutes. We're just trying to make sure we play with the right spirit and the right way every night. Most of the veteran teams will tell you they don't really care what seed they are. I think we're one of those teams, too."
The Grizzlies found a surprising stride earlier this month, winning four of five games before suffering back-to-back losses against the Hawks and the Washington Wizards last Saturday. Memphis, which underwent a significant roster overhaul at the trading deadline, appears to have gelled.
Veteran guard Mike Conley has been at the heart of that resurgence, averaging 28.4 points and 8.4 assists over the past five games. Conley credited an adjustment in floor spacing to his singular burst, with his averaging 9.4 free throws during his blitz linked to the offensive tweaks.
"I think it's a combination of a lot of things right now. It's not one thing," Conley said. "I think our team is slowly starting to get to know each other. It's easier to play with guys you have chemistry with and we've built that over the last few weeks. The way we've played with four out, one in spacing has allowed for our guards to get more penetration and I think that's allowed me to get to the free-throw line a little bit more. Just being able to be more aggressive, get to the rim and getting those foul calls and knocking down free throws.
"Everything is coming together at the right time as far as offense for us. Right now, we're trying to figure out defensively. If we can stop people, we can win games."
--Field Level Media
Updated March 20, 2019