3-0 Rockets, finding defense, await Grizzlies (Oct 23, 2017)
HOUSTON -- It was an expected answer to a question that was sure to yield this precise response, with Houston Rockets coach Mike D'Antoni offering measured praise over the promising start enjoyed by his unbeaten team with the first week of the schedule set to bleed into the second.
After the Rockets (3-0) survived a grudge match against the reigning champion Warriors, won again the next night in Sacramento, then cruised to an easy victory over an in-state rival, D'Antoni was pressed to assess where his team stood at this early stage of this season.
The Rockets were without offseason acquisition Chris Paul in their victories over the Kings and Dallas Mavericks, but the point guard's absence did little to undermine the commitment to defense.
"I like it," D'Antoni said. "Obviously, I got to like it. Nothing wrong with it in the sense of, I think we're trying to build a good defensive base. We're trying to understand where we are offensively. I wish Chris would be here so we can keep getting better.
"I'm happy, I'm happy where we're at. We got a long ways to go. But 3-0 is 3-0."
Houston will host the Memphis Grizzlies (2-0) on Monday night at Toyota Center, seeking to maintain its early defensive vigor against a team undergoing an ideological shift on the offensive end.
Gone are the halcyon "Grit & Grind" days that Memphis cemented as its identity. Now the Grizzlies are shifting to the pace-and-space model prevalent throughout the league, and while all the roster components don't perfectly fit that methodology, Memphis does rank 10th in offensive rating following home wins over the New Orleans Pelicans and Golden State.
For the Rockets, that means preparing for a matchup against a division rival that could seem familiar but might not be.
"I think our mindset is getting better no matter who we play," Rockets guard James Harden said after the win over the Mavericks. "From the beginning of the game, we were locked in, and offensively we made shots. And that's going to be our blueprint, defensive stops."
Noteworthy from the Grizzlies' 111-101 win over the Warriors on Saturday was the balanced scoring, excluding the 34-point performance from center Marc Gasol, that Memphis rode to success.
The safe assumption is that if Memphis is going to thrive playing at a hastened pace, point guard Mike Conley will shoulder a significant load advancing that objective. However, Conley tallied just 10 points on 3-for-14 shooting against the Warriors, with Memphis emboldened by double-digit showings from James Ennis III plus Tyreke Evans and Mario Chalmers in reserve.
"We've got some guys that can do some different things coming off the bench," Grizzlies coach David Fizdale said. "That group does a good job of sharing the ball and sharing the game, and they trust each other. Hopefully that's something we can build on.
"By no means have we arrived. We've still got a lot of work to do. But that is definitely the style of play we'd like to continue to build upon."