PREVIEW: Memphis Grizzlies carry optimism into game at Houston

Mar 17, 2021; Houston, Texas, USA; Houston Rockets guard Kevin Porter Jr. (3) looks on during the third quarter against the Golden State Warriors at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Carmen Mandato/POOL PHOTOS-USA TODAY Sports

In their ongoing search for consistency, the Memphis Grizzlies continue to show flashes of potential as not only a playoff contender but also an actual playoff threat.

Although the Grizzlies dropped back-to-back games over the weekend in Salt Lake City, the setbacks in the league’s most difficult place to visit showed just how close they are to realizing their promise.

Strides remain, but combined with their three successive victories heading into that weekend, the Grizzlies’ recent stretch of games offers a glimpse of what they can achieve when they play well.

Against the Utah Jazz, the top team in the league record-wise (and winners of 19 consecutive home games), the Grizzlies were undermined by their own sluggish first quarters. Yet, they carried optimism out of Salt Lake and into Houston for Monday’s game against the Rockets at the Toyota Center.

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“A lot to learn,” Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins said. “We had a lot of breakdowns there in both games in the first quarter, which kind of set the stage for having to mount a comeback. I’m really proud of the positive mentality we had to go up against a really good team.”

Memphis remains in the thick of the playoff chase in the Western Conference, having entered Sunday in ninth place and squarely in the mix for the play-in series.

The Grizzlies will have to continue to build with the roster they already have in place after opting to stand pat at the trade deadline. They will welcome back one of their franchise building blocks, Jaren Jackson Jr., in late April from knee surgery, but he represents their lone reinforcement.

Against Utah, the Grizzlies proved they don’t need much more to contend. The results weren’t favorable, but there were positive elements.

“I’ve never been one for moral victories, but we did some good things,” Grizzlies forward Kyle Anderson said. “I think we got some good momentum coming into this game and for these next few games coming up. We’ll get them at home in a few days after we play Houston.

“I’m not one for moral victories, but it wasn’t as bad (as the results would suggest).”

The Rockets welcomed Kelly Olynyk into their mix on Saturday and finished what they started the previous night against the Minnesota Timberwolves, rolling to a 129-107 victory in a game in which they led by as many as 34 points.

On Friday, the Rockets forged a 19-point, third-quarter lead only to surrender a 22-0 closing burst to the Timberwolves in Minnesota’s 107-101 triumph.

Olynyk, starting in place of center Christian Wood, posted 16 points, four rebounds, four assists and three steals but it was the performance of point guard Kevin Porter Jr. that raised eyebrows.

Houston acquired Olynyk as part of the deal that sent Victor Oladipo to Miami. By trading Oladipo, the Rockets cleared playing time for Porter, whose promise has been tantalizing — with the Cleveland Cavaliers as a rookie last season and in the G League this season (when he averaged 24 points and seven assists a game).

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Providing Porter every opportunity to showcase and further develop his wares now is the best course of action for Houston.

“That’s becoming a point guard and being that head of the snake,” said Porter, who scored 25 points on 10-of-15 shooting against Minnesota. “You’ve got to get your guys in spots and see every read and know where everybody is out on the court at all times and just set the guys up — even when I’m being aggressive. Those reads over the past games … have gotten easier.”

–Field Level Media