This is the third of four games against the Grizzlies in a short period of time (thank you Schedule Dudes). We won each of the last two, last month by 4 at home and by 11 in Memphis a couple weeks ago. Other than sporting a record of 18-53 the Grizz haven't changed too much since then so the preview here will give you a good idea of what we're facing. The highlights:
- Memphis started the season playing slower than snot and they couldn't grind out enough points or play enough defense to win. New coach Lionel Hollins has pushed them to run harder and they have but now they can't hold onto the ball. They still aren't scoring enough and their defense still isn't good enough to win.
- The Grizz always have a puncher's chance, however, because O.J. Mayo and Rudy Gay are explosive. Coach Hollins has also put the ball in Mike Conley's hands and he has responded fairly well. His game is suited to running and he's more athletic than our top two point guards. Center Marc Gasol has skills and usually puts up numbers.
- Memphis lacks depth.
- Memphis has a hard time hitting buckets. Often they have a hard time creating quality shots period.
- You have to watch your turnovers against them and you have to move your feet to avoid fouling them. The foul line is their one consistent offensive strength. Easy buckets give them confidence.
- The Blazers need to control the boards, get the ball inside against their defense, keep them on the perimeter, avoid giving up easy points, and kill them with the second unit.
With that synopsis aside, some specifics about this game worth mentioning:
1. Portland has to be careful not to overlook the Grizzlies. It's hard to sweep any team in this league, even the bad ones. Memphis is such a horrible road team that tonight's game shouldn't be in danger. But Portland is just coming off a huge win against Phoenix and has an important game with Utah next. It wouldn't do at all to win both of those and lose this one through lack of concentration.
2. This game is all about building a cushion. Winning the division would be fantastic. If it happens we'll all dance and party. But we can't control what happens to teams with fewer losses than we have right now. Until the final game of the season when these two teams face each other Denver's fate is in Denver's hands. Their spot is theirs to lose. Our job is to maintain our spot, being available to make the leap should the teams ahead of us falter but certainly falling no further. We're about to face a four-game road trip which will almost certainly feature a couple of losses. This game would mitigate the consequences of a 2-2 trip should that happen. This game would somewhat mitigate the consequences of a loss against Utah Tuesday night (which I don't expect to happen). Losing this game puts more pressure on all of those games. A little snow slipping down the mountain is inevitable but you don't want an avalanche. There's no avalanche if you win tonight. You give yourself more leeway.
3. If things go well early this would be a great night to test Oden more. You could also get the Spanish Armada more playing time.
A final thought: I don't know if you've noticed, but we're starting to pass the point of calling the Blazers a young team. They're still young age-wise, of course. But the mistakes and lapses we were seeing earlier in the season have started to fade away. They've been showing a lot of determination, grit, and chutzpah. They've also been playing fairly smart. Most of all, they've been winning the games they should, winning a couple more yet that maybe they shouldn't, and not letting potholes in the road cause full-blown accidents. Those are the marks of a veteran club. And a veteran club wins this game tonight as surely as they won the Phoenix game (and probably will the Utah one). They've pretty much proven themselves at every turn but the turns aren't over yet.
Enter tonight's Jersey Contest here.
I always like to mention the good folks at 3shadesofblue when we play the Grizzlies. They were friendly to us and we were helping each other crank out good content back when this was just a baby blog.
Game starts at 7:00 p.m. Pacific. It'll be on CSN locally and NBATV nationally.