Attempting to maintain their hold on a playoff spot, the Houston Rockets appear to have caught their next opponent at the perfect time.
The Rockets hope to take advantage of a depleted Memphis Grizzlies roster when they open an important homestand Monday night.
Houston (33-33) begins a three-game stay at the Toyota Center tied with sliding Dallas for seventh in the Western Conference, but only two games ahead of ninth-place Utah. The Rockets improved their standing with three straight wins on a five-game trip that ended with Saturday's 125-109 loss to red-hot Charlotte.
The Rockets' first home game since March 2 may feel as unfamiliar as the opponent, as the Grizzlies will have a much different look than when these teams last met in Memphis on Jan. 12. Marc Gasol and Mario Chalmers have since suffered season-ending foot injuries and the Grizzlies traded two other starters from that contest, Jeff Green and Courtney Lee, last month.
Gasol and Chalmers, who has since been waived, are far from Memphis' only ailing players. The Grizzlies played Saturday at Atlanta without Mike Conley (Achilles), Zach Randolph (knee), Brandan Wright (knee), Vince Carter (calf) and Chris Andersen (shoulder), and it's unclear whether any of them will be available on Monday.
The litany of injuries forced Memphis (39-27) to sign three former D-League participants – Ray McCallum, Alex Stepheson and Briante Weber – to 10-day contracts last week. Weber started a second straight game in Conley's place during the 95-83 loss to the Hawks, while McCallum and Stepheson became the 24th and 25th Grizzlies to play in a game this season – the most in the NBA.
Memphis unsurprisingly struggled against Atlanta's tough defense, shooting 34.7 percent.
''We're challenged offensively right now,'' coach David Joerger said. ''Part of it is fatigue but most of it is that (they) are a really good team and we just struggled to get the ball in the hole.''
Memphis, still comfortably fifth in the West despite the heavy roster turnover, could have trouble keeping up with a Houston team that's fifth in the league in scoring (105.8 points per game) and is averaging 109.6 per game in 11 outings since the All-Star break.
The Rockets haven't been good from the perimeter of late, however. They're shooting 25.0 percent from 3-point range over their last six and finished 5 of 26 from beyond the arc for a second straight night in Saturday's defeat.
“Our guys fought and they gave it what they had and I think (Saturday) was one of those nights that they didn't have it,” interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff said.
James Harden will try to bounce back from a 2-of-14, 12-point performance against Charlotte. The All-Star guard is averaging 29.0 points on 53.2 percent shooting in three season matchups with Memphis and had 40 in a 102-93 home loss to the Grizzlies on Nov. 25.
The Rockets got another efficient performance from Dwight Howard, who has shot 74.4 percent from the field while averaging 17.5 points and 13.5 rebounds over his last four. He compiled 17 points and 14 rebounds to complement Harden's 25 points in a 107-91 win at Memphis on Jan. 12.
Memphis, which has won two of this season's meeting, still has a couple of healthy veterans to rely on. Lance Stephenson had 18 points against Atlanta after scoring a career-high 33 in Friday's 121-114 victory over New Orleans, while Matt Barnes is averaging 15.3 points over his last four.