Houston Rockets @ Memphis Grizzlies: feat. Chip Crain of 3 Shades of Blue

Teams: Houston Rockets @ Memphis Grizzlies
Time: Wednesday, March 4.  7:00 p.m. CT
Venue: Toyota Center, Houston, TX
Television: Root Sports

Insider’s View – Q&A with Chip Crain of 3 Shades of Blue.  Follow Chip on Twitter @chipc3 and @3ShadesofBlue.

For the other side of the conversation I had with Chip, check out 3sob.com.

MF – I honestly never understood it, but there were Rockets fans that were happy to see Courtney Lee shipped out to Boston a few years ago. Gasol is generally recognized as the best center in the NBA, Z-Bo and Tony Allen get plenty of grit-and-grind love, and Mike Conley makes just about every “most underrated” list. But how important is Lee to what the Grizzlies like to do?  

CC – Courtney Lee is vital to the Grizzlies success this season. Everyone knows about Conley, Gasol and Randolph and the Green acquisition has been well covered but Courtney Lee’s outside shot is every bit as important as the other starters. Memphis is 18-2 this season when Lee hits at least 2 three point shots. Considering that Lee is the third best 3 point shooter in the league, the fact that he has only accomplished this feet 20 times is disturbing and reflects the problem with Lee. He doesn’t appear to like taking a lot of shots.

Lee focuses hard on defense, takes proper shots and defers to others more often than he should. Joerger has repeatedly said Lee needs to take the shots he gets when open rather than force the ball to others. When Lee doesn’t take the open shots teams collapse into the lane making it more difficult for anyone else to score.

What’s the biggest difference about the Grizzlies now that Jeff Green is on the team?

That’s a good question. Many pundits have talked about how Jeff Green has made the Grizzlies so much better, and the team is 16-5 with Green starting at SF, but his individual difference isn’t that great. Green has fit into a role where he is at times the 5th offensive option so he offensive impact is limited, his defense isn’t as good as the player he replaced (Tayshaun Prince) and his rebounding isn’t anything to write home about even if it is an improvement on Prince.

However, Green does force teams to stay with him out to the 3 point line and that alone makes it easier for Gasol and Randolph to operate inside. Teams left Prince alone all the time. Green will punish teams that ignore him. Prince couldn’t.

Speaking of Green, he’s been the upgrade at small forward the Griz needed, but how much do you personally miss James Johnson? He never had any huge stat lines against Houston last season, but he still gave the Rockets fits, breaking up pick-and-rolls and keeping possessions alive with big rebounds. Naturally, he put up 27 points, 5 boards, 4 steals and 4 blocks in his first game against Houston with the Raptors, because of course he did. Were you sad to see him go?

Interesting question. James Johnson is an incredible talent on the court capable of exploding at any moment and in any manner. That was his downfall in Memphis. JJ gave the team life on some nights and yet he never seemed content and that caused the problems that allowed him to leave town. It wasn’t so much is talent on the court as his attitude off it that was his downfall.

Personally I enjoyed watching him do his thing on the court but it was clear by the end of last season that Johnson and Joerger weren’t getting along and I wasn’t surprised or disappointed when he signed elsewhere. It was expected.

You hear a lot of talk about what a matchup problem the Grizzlies can be for other teams because of their size and toughness, but what kind of match-ups/game plans give Memphis the most trouble? Are there any teams specifically that you would like to see them avoid in Round 1 of the playoffs? (Assuming they keep the 2-seed)

Frankly every playoff team in the Western Conference gives me worry. When Oklahoma City, San Antonio, Los Angeles and Dallas are the 1st round road opponents every team should know it will be a fight to win the conference.

I would particularly not like seeing Oklahoma City or San Antonio in the 1st round but based on current standings the Grizzlies likely will face one of them. San Antonio had Memphis’ number for the last few seasons prior to the Grizzlies winning the last two games (including an epic triple OT win in San Antonio) but the Spurs weren’t at 100% in those games. OKC has beaten the Grizzlies in the playoffs in 2 of the last 4 years, both series going 7 games, but a well rested Durant and Westbrook in the playoffs is frightening.

In the upper half I would want to avoid Houston and Golden State as long as possible since their perimeter games are very difficult for the Grizzlies big man defense to contain.

What number do you think Marc Gasol will play with on the Knicks next year since Patrick Ewing’s #33 is already retired? Pau’s #16??

Kidding, kidding. But seriously, how worried are you that he might move on, or is this all just a formality and he’d never actually leave Memphis?

I am not even thinking of Gasol wearing Knicks colors next season. Why would he take less money and a shorter contract to play in the mess that is on the court at Madison Square Gardens right now? People forget but Gasol’s parents and younger brother live in Memphis. Marc graduated from a Memphis high school while Pau played here. Marc also consistently has said he wants to play with Zach Randolph who he calls his brother from another mother. I don’t see anything New York can offer to attract him away from Memphis.

I’m concerned he will move, but not worried if that makes any sense. A big market city with a lot of cash and a winning franchise would be tough for him to turn down even with his family ties and Zach Randolph in Memphis. I could see the Spurs, Lakers, Heat and possibly Chicago making offers that would be hard to turn down. Reuniting with Lionel Hollins and New Jersey isn’t likely either but you never know.

The only way to get Marc out of Memphis in my opinion is to offer a larger market where he could offset the loss in NBA income with advertising contracts and a strong Spanish population.

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