Memphis Grizzlies vs. Portland Trail Blazers Preview

Game Time: 7:00 p.m. TV: CSNNW

The Memphis Grizzlies come into town with a 25-19 record, hot in the thick of the Western Conference playoff race. They also come into town having lost 3 of 4 games, the Lakers, Raptors, and Kings all putting them down. The big news for Memphis recently has been the return of power forward Zach Randolph who has scored 25 and a pair of 13's in his three games back from knee injury.

Randolph joins a starting lineup that includes point guard Mike Conley, who is playing the best basketball of his career this year. His stats of 13 points, 7 assists, 43% shooting, 33% from the arc don't reflect the glue he's provided to this formerly-fractured roster. A couple years ago coach Lionel Hollins threw his support behind Conley when the youngster was struggling in a swamp of more experienced scorers demanding the ball. Now Conley demands that allegiance, not just from his coach but to those same talented but diverse players. Randolph, Rudy Gay, O.J. Mayo, Marc Gasol...all of these guys have produced their current numbers or more plenty in their careers. Those numbers have just never led to wins like they do now. Conley is the brain of this outfit, keeping everyone else working together.

The backbone of this team is Gasol, their center. While not quite on the mind-numbing pace he started the season with he's still averaging 16 and 10 with 3 assists and 2 blocks per game. He plays defense and hustles, anchoring the frontcourt. Also responsible for defense: starting shooting guard Tony Allen. Considered by some the weak point of the lineup, Allen doesn't hog shots and he hits those he gets. He's also willing to do the little things that the high rollers on this team miss: move feet, raise arms, take a tough assignment. He gets around 2 steals per outing as well.

The amazing Rudy Gay rounds out the starting lineup, giving the team 19 points, 7 rebounds, 1.5 steals, and plenty of offensive firepower. He's best on the run but he's also developed his shot enough to be considered a star-level threat, if not always a consistent one.

Randolph's return has sent forward-center Marreese Speights, now a seasoned starter, to the bench along with guard O.J. Mayo and forwards Dante Cunningham and Quincy Pondexter. It's fair to say the Grizzlies are deeper and more experienced than the team we're used to seeing. They've got athletes, scorers, and rebounders up and down the lineup. They're not an easy night anymore even during their sub-par outings.

One thing that hasn't changed: Memphis loves their easy points. They're top five on the break and in the paint both. Match their energy, though, and they start to break down. They're not great shooters as a team and they're poor from beyond the arc. Nor do they usually draw enough fouls to make up for their lack of scoring in the halfcourt offense. They need to run. They need to pound you. They need to play quick and loose or they're likely to get stumped. Their best safety valve when they do bog down is offensive rebounding. Those bigs have a nose for the ball, especially when it means free put-back points. For all of that, the Grizzlies don't turn over the ball that much. They're going to make you earn it if you want to defend them.

Also impressive: The Grizzlies are managing to keep opponents from the same easy points they covet, always an issue with Memphis teams of yore. They're right in the middle of the league in terms of fast break and paint points allowed. That may not seem like a great accomplishment but when you start figuring the margin they're gaining each game it adds up quickly. They're also solidly in the middle in shooting percentages allowed. Their big claim to fame is being one of the best teams in the league, if not the best, at forcing turnovers. Their ideal possession is to pressure you with their athletes, get you to cough it up, and then run free.

Blazer fans will no doubt remember the barn-burner these two teams played in the Rose Garden on January 24th, a contest the Blazers won 97-84. The score isn't indicative, but it was one of the more intense, fun games of the season. The Grizzlies bring that out in you.

That's particularly appropriate because, just in case you've forgotten, tonight is Blazersedge Night at the Rose Garden. On this evening 705 kids (and chaperons) who otherwise might never have gotten to attend a game will descend on the Garden to cheer their team long and loud. They get this opportunity because of you, because of the donations you gave. 705 is an astonishing number. That's something to be proud of.

Here's something else you need to know: the Blazers have only lost once on Blazersedge Night in all the years we've been doing it. They've thumped the Thunder. They've come back from a serious halftime deficit to beat the Grizzlies. Their only loss came at the hands of the Chris-Paul-led New Orleans Hornets and that game could have been decided on a last-minute jumper that Jerryd Bayless just missed. These games are always good. No matter how the team is playing right now, it has to be that way tonight, right? After all, even the basketball gods wouldn't want to support 700-odd kids seeing their first and only game in person, right? It's going to be a doozy of a time and a game to match.

So root hard tonight, if not for the team alone on behalf of those kids. Think of their wide-eyed astonishment as they walk in the arena, of all 700 standing for the pre-game introductions, of all the cheers for dunks and break-aways and blocked shots. There will be more to this game than meets the eye, all because of your generosity.

Enjoy!

Straight Outta Vancouver is your Grizzlies hook-up.

The form for tonight's game.

--Dave (blazersub@gmail.com)

P.S. If you want to stop by and say hello during tomorrow night's game I'll be in Section 319, Row M, Seat 3, up among some of our Blazersedge Night participants!

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