Grizzlies-Rockets could factor into playoff matchups down the road
HOUSTON — Given the uncertainty in the back half of the Western Conference postseason picture, contemplating potential playoff matchups will become the exercise du jour as teams prepare for the final 20-plus games of the regular season.
For the Rockets (43-19), who appear locked into the third seed barring drastic fluctuations in the standings, that means reviewing the possibilities of first-round matchups against the Utah Jazz, Los Angeles Clippers, Oklahoma City Thunder and Memphis Grizzlies (36-26), who will visit Toyota Center on Saturday night looking to secure the season series against their division foes.
Just three games separate the fourth-place Jazz and seventh-place Thunder. Starting with the Grizzlies, Houston will face each team in that quartet once during the stretch run, with a showdown at the Clippers on April 10 serving as the Rockets’ penultimate game of the regular season.
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The Rockets throttled the Grizzlies 119-95 in their previous meeting, unpacking the frustration of two earlier series losses that could have gone their way.
Houston coughed up a nine-point first-half lead in a 115-109 loss at Memphis on Dec. 23 before blowing a 15-point second-half lead in a 110-105 home loss on Jan. 13. That second setback to Memphis followed a defeat at the hands of the Minnesota Timberwolves and marked the Rockets’ first set of consecutive losses.
While the Rockets have little reason to be concerned over a tiebreaker, splitting the season series could serve them well in the event of a matchup featuring teams ranked second in offense (Houston) and fourth in defense (Memphis).
“It’s important that we win,” Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said. “We have to figure out if we’ve got to try to get third or second and that’s what we’re trying to do. That’s what’s important. And play well. If it happens to be against Memphis, then you make way.
“When the playoffs start, everybody is 0-0 and they’re coming at you so I don’t think (the opponent) matters.”
The Grizzlies dropped a 104-100 decision in Dallas on Friday night, falling to 3-4 in their last seven games. The loss also prevented Memphis from slipping past the Clippers into fifth place in the West after Los Angeles fell in Milwaukee.
Memphis, 10-3 in the second half of back-to-backs, will return home for four consecutive games after the trip to Houston. That will serve as a pivotal stretch. After that homestand, the Grizzlies will play six of seven games on the road with their lone home game against San Antonio.
But first up is Houston and an opportunity for a third win against a potential playoff opponent.
“Every game going forward has playoff implications for us,” Grizzlies guard Mike Conley said to NBA.com. “We come in with a mindset, no matter who we’re playing, that it’s going to mean more to us.
“So this trip right here will be good for us to go against two teams that are really playing well, but to also not worry too much about next week or the week after that.”