Game 81 Preview: Grizzlies vs. Trail Blazers

Game Time  7:00 p.m.  TV:  CSNNW

So...here we go.  By virtue of the New Orleans Hornets losing to Utah last night the 6-7-8 spots in the West now look like this:

6.  Portland 47-33

7.  Memphis 46-34

8.  New Orleans 46-35

That makes the math simple.  If the Blazers win tonight they will remain at 33 losses while both the Grizzlies and the Hornets rest at 35.  Portland having but one game remaining after this there's no way they finish tied with or behind either team.  The 6th seed would belong to the Blazers officially and irrevocably with a victory tonight.  Should the Blazers lose tonight all three seeds would still be open.  Portland could yet finish ahead of Memphis and New Orleans if both lost their final games and the Blazers won theirs but any tie with either team would result in Portland getting the lower seed by virtue of head-to-head record.  In other words, if the Blazers lose tonight their chances of finishing 6th diminish, 7th becomes a strong possibility, and 8th is still possible.  Should the Blazers lose we will include the entire table of possibilities in the post-game recap.  I'm confident they're going to save me the trouble.

Many predicted suffering for the Grizz when star forward Rudy Gay went down for the season at the All-Star break.  Apparently these guys didn't get the memo because they're 15-7 since.  In those 22 games they've allowed the opponent to score 100 only six times.  That's near shocking for a team that generally allows their opponents to score 100 by the mid-third quarter.  Playing defense makes the Grizz dangerous because even without Gay they still have scoring potential in Zach Randolph, Mike Conley (somewhat on fire as of late), Marc Gasol (also on a little bit of a run), and a combination of Sam Young and O.J. Mayo at shooting guard.  They are quite the rebounding team too, especially on the offensive end where Randolph and Gasol wreak havoc.  They rely heavily on the fast break and on high percentage shots in the lane, a category in which they top the league.  In fact take out Mayo and the percentages of their top half dozen players are nearly insane.  The only thing they don't do well is shoot the three.  Mayo and Conley are the only things keeping them from being a disaster from beyond the arc and even they are more of a thread than a lifeline.

In order to win tonight the Blazers will have to understand their opponent.  Memphis feasts on easy baskets in transition and halfcourt both.  Whether it's a fast-break layup, Zach popping a jumper, or Gasol putting back a miss they're counting on being in range and poorly defended.  The Blazers need to get back and once they do they need to pack in the defense and refuse to move.  Defend the Grizz well from 18 feet and in and you walk away with this game.  Memphis still tends towards isolation scoring.  Conley averages 6.6 assists per game and that pretty much triples the next nearest player.  Whoever has the ball is going to try and score the ball.  Defend accordingly.  If they want to try and take advantage of your packed-in, ball-swarming defense by reversing it for a weak-side three, let them.  More likely they're going to cough up the turnover trying to figure out how to score.  Those offensive boards may be their best weapon.  Portland will have to find a way to get the ball back and run offense of their own.  Despite not allowing 120 per game this year the Grizz still don't defend that well when you make them move and/or think.  They can defend just fine if you have to keep four people back to secure the rebound and then walk the ball up the floor, though.

Most of all the Blazers need to start and end this game the same way we're starting and ending the preview:  Remember that this game gives you 6th place and you don't have to worry anymore.  You take the highest seed possible and call it a day.  This is Portland's night.  If they cannot manage to beat the Grizzlies in this situation they're going to have serious trouble beating a significantly better playoff opponent with even more on the line.  The post-season is all about the importance of a single game and the laser-tight focus such gravity brings.  That's exactly the way this game should play out for the Blazers.  Anything less would be a disappointment.

Straight Outta Vancouver is your Grizz hookup.

Your Game Form for the Jersey Contest.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

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