HOUSTON -- The Rockets recorded a pair of unappealing firsts on Wednesday night in Minnesota, and when they host the Memphis Grizzlies on Friday night at Toyota Center, they'll look to avoid another.
With their loss to the Timberwolves, the Rockets (31-10) fell on the second night of a back-to-back for the first time in 10 occurrences. Additionally, the Timberwolves were the first team with a losing record to defeat the shorthanded Rockets this season. The setback also set the table for Houston to drop consecutive games for the first time. The Grizzlies beat the Rockets 115-109 on Dec. 23 in Memphis.
"With a couple players down and playing big minutes these other guys on a back-to-back, the schedule has been pretty tough and it's getting tougher," Rockets coach Mike D'Antoni said. "We just ran into one of those nights where we didn't have it. We didn't have it."
The Rockets had their nine-game winning streak snapped. They won 10 consecutive games to open December, the 10th victory coming in overtime at Minnesota on the second game of a back-to-back.
"The good thing about ending a streak is we can start another one," D'Antoni said.
Houston played without reserve guard Eric Gordon and starting center Clint Capela. Gordon missed his second consecutive game with a sprained left big toe and is questionable against Memphis; Capela has missed 13 games with a small fibula fracture in his left leg and is scheduled to return later this month.
Even in the face of injury the Rockets can hang their hat on consistency, having posted a 20-3 record since Dec. 1. Things haven't been so rosy for the Grizzlies (24-17), whose last winning streak of longer than two games came in early December when they won six consecutive games to open that month.
In that span Memphis has lost to the Kings, the Magic and Lakers while beating the Cavaliers and Warriors. The Grizzlies are the only team to defeat the Warriors twice this season, but they also followed up a 34-point home win over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Dec. 29 with a 103-95 loss in Oklahoma City on Wednesday night. Under first-year coach David Fizdale the Grizzlies toyed with the idea of a hastened pace and leaving behind their 'Grit & Grind' persona. Injuries scuttled those plans and Memphis currently ranks 28th in the NBA in pace and 25th in points per game with 99.2.
Establishing both a consistent level of play and a feasibly acceptable new identity has been surprisingly difficult. Uncovering solutions to those specific problems will require additional labor for the Grizzlies.
"Obviously when you play the game you see things one way, but when you look at film and try to see when you try to execute plays and when you try to run stuff, on film you can see why it's not happening," Grizzlies center Marc Gasol said. "All you can do is look at yourself and see what you can try to do better to help the team."
Rockets aim to start new streak against Grizzlies