A Look at the Grizzles
The first thing you're going to notice about the Grizzlies is that their offense is like Gary Busey solving a Rubik's Cube: pretty slow and not much success.
Granted, the Blazers are the last ones in the league to be talking about pace. Portland generates fewer possessions per game than anyone else in the league. But because the Blazers don't turn the ball over they're actually 22nd in field goals attempted with those possessions. Their 8th place standing in field goal percentage and 6th place in three-point percentage means they get bumped up to 19th in field goals made and 15th in points generated overall. They don't use a lot of possessions in a game but they don't waste possessions either. Each one is measured and effective. In fact to throw one more stat at you, the Blazers are second only to the L*kers, and that by a nose, in points generated for every 100 possessions. That's exactly what you need when you play at a measured pace: offensive efficiency.
Now let's return to the Grizzlies.
Memphis is 23rd in the league in pace. That's seven spots higher than the Blazers. However they turn the ball over more and end up 27th in field goals attempted--five spots lower than Portland. But wait, there's more! The Grizzlies are 22nd overall in field goal percentage and 28th in three-point percentage, sinking both their field goals made and points per game to 29th. How efficient are they with their relative paucity of possessions? 29th in the league, ahead of only the Clippers. That's like finishing next-to-last in a Mother of the Year competition, just ahead of Jeffrey Dahmer.
Factor in their 23rd place finish in defensive efficiency and you begin to understand the 17-48 record.
What do the Grizzlies do well? You have to start with their two explosive scorers, O.J. Mayo and Rudy Gay. Mayo has been in a wee bit of a slump lately but he's still averaging 18.9 ppg on the season plus 4 rebounds and 3 assists. That's not bad for a rookie. He can hit threes. He can hit free throws. He's got a great offensive package. Ditto in most ways for Gay. He's less of an outside threat but you only have to see him streak down the floor and throw down a jam once to have him burned in your memory forever. He's averaging 18.7 ppg with 5.6 rebounds.
Then you have to move to two of guys who have been hot in the last couple of weeks. Center Marc Gasol has been giving solid returns all season but he dropped 30 a few games ago against Philadelphia and added 13 rebounds in that game and 15 a couple of games later against Boston. Interim Coach Lionel Hollins has taken a shine to point guard Mike Conley and has put the ball in his hands more. The result has been a string of double-digit games including 31 against Philly and 20 yesterday against Detroit.
Whatever the team record, these guys can ball. Their speed and athleticism (or skill in Gasol's case) can cause trouble for Portland's defenders. Plus they've been in attacking mode far more under Hollins than they were at the beginning of the season. If you leave them an opening they'll take it. (They're still having a massive amount of trouble hitting 100 though.)
Other than the occasional hiccup none of the other Grizzlies present serious threats. Darrell Arthur, Hakim Warrick, Darko Milicic, Darius Miles, Quinton Ross...none of these guys have sustained great play over a week, let alone the season. That lack of depth is another Memphis weakness.
The Grizzlies are an average defensive rebounding team, they can pick your pocket, and they draw a large number of free throws compared to their overall possessions (though they're not great at converting them). Those are the main team strengths.
Basically the Grizz hope that you don't run away from them. Then they bank on a couple of people having superb nights on the offensive end, pulling out the win.
Keys to the Game
1. As with the athletic Atlanta team, you want to control the boards in this game. The best way to frustrate potent offensive athletes is to make sure they don't touch the ball as much. Even though they're used to playing measured ball, it doesn't work for them. If every possession is dear to the Grizzlies they'll not score easily. Rebounding is the quickest way to ball control and thus to the win.
2. They're going to be overplaying a little on defense, maybe gambling. That's going to create openings. You're a fool if you don't attack through those. Gasol is a smart player but he's not a shot-blocker. Get inside and take it to them. Get their bigs in foul trouble and feast.
3. Mayo and Conley shoot the three-ball well. As a team, though, Memphis neither shoots many nor makes many. With those exceptions, go ahead and pack it in, keeping the interior Grizzly-free and making them beat you over the top. You don't need to stop their wings, just stay in front of them and drive them into help if they penetrate. After a while you'll see more jumpers and then the game is yours.
4. No fast break points for Memphis.
5. Both teams played on the road yesterday. The Blazers are apt to be more tired, having gone farther and still being on the road. For that reason (and to keep the crowd from energizing the home team) it would be smart for Portland to jump on the Grizz early and salt this thing away. They're accustomed to losing. Make them feel like it's just another night.
6. (Thanks to SabonisBonus for the memory jog.) Bench! Kill!
We're going to see Memphis once a week for the next three weeks. It's pretty hard to sweep a team four games in a season anyway, let alone when there's familiarity like that schedule engenders. But they haven't seen us that much yet and this game is pretty important from a psychological/emotional point of view for the team. I'll tell you the truth...I think the Blazers could pull off a surprise win in Cleveland. But I'd rather not have to in order to salvage the trip. That's a real possibility if the Blazers lose today. Just make this game easy...please.
Check out the Memphis story from our old (and good) friends at 3ShadesofBlue.com.
Enter today's Jersey Contest form here. (Don't forget the 5:00 start.)