Tonight the Portland Trail Blazers (28-31, 8-21 on the road) face off against the Memphis Grizzlies (39-19, 23-8 at home) in a 5:00 Pacific game televised on CSNNW. And I'm just spitballing here, but I'd say that whole Rudy Gay for Tayshaun Prince, Austin Daye, and Ed Davis trade is working out pretty well for the Grizz. They've only won 9 out of their last 10 with the sole loss coming on the road to Miami. I guess that's not too shabby.
The Grizzlies have been succeeding with defense. One team in their last ten opponents has topped 100 on them. The Kings managed 101 but still lost. Nobody else has gotten above 93. Five of those ten failed to score 90. A few years ago the Grizzlies were the undisputed masters of the 126-123 outing. How times change. They now own the second most efficient defense in the league behind Indiana. They don't give up points in the paint. They hold opponents to a reasonable percentage from the field. They don't give up free throws. They don't allow offensive rebounds. If you want to beat them you have to fast break or hit threes. Those are the only areas in which their defense is comparatively weak. And even then they're not horrible, just average (which looks horrible compared to their prowess in every other defensive area). They're also 2nd in the league at forcing turnovers, which is almost unfair considering how well they do everything else. Needless to say, adding Tayshaun Prince into the mix makes the defense even better. Playing against Memphis is just no fun anymore.
The best way to describe the Grizzlies' offense is "As good as it needs to be in order to win." They're not spectacular. They score well enough in the paint but they're using big men rather than drivers to do it. They don't draw fouls nor do they hit threes to generate extra points. Their overall shooting percentage is rather poor and their effective field goal and true shooting percentages are bad. If they can tag you with Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol so that you have to leave the perimeter guys entirely they can be effective. But if you get a hand anywhere near the Memphis jump shooters they'll miss. They are the best offensive rebounding team in the league, though, so your job's not done until the ball is secure.
The Memphis starting lineup normally consists of Prince, Gasol, guards Mike Conley and Tony Allen, plus Zach Randolph. Zach is nursing an ankle sprain and didn't play in their last contest with Darrell Arthur, Ed Davis, and Jon Leuer stepping in to fill the gap. Their rebounding is fine that way but nobody can match Randolph's scoring. Randolph is listed as day-to-day. Arthur is out. Expect to see heavy doses of Davis.
Most of Memphis' players produce at a low level punctuated by wild fits of scoring. Randolph, Conley, Gasol, and reserve guard Jerryd Bayless all fall into this category and they're listed in order of their chances to explode. It's like Whac-a-Mole. You don't know who's going to stick their head up next but you better hammer them down quickly because you can only afford so many 10-2 runs before that defense will make the recovery distance too great. This means Portland's propensity to get down early and claw their way back could serve them poorly.
The Blazers will have to watch turnovers, rebounds, and hit enough threes to overcome their lack of fast break ability. Portland is vulnerable at places where Memphis is strong and the Blazers are only half-equipped to take advantage of the Grizzlies' weaknesses. That may make for a long night and a sad start to the road trip.
If, however, the Blazers can rush their way to some 10-2 runs of their own (without falling behind by 20 first) Memphis' offense may struggle to keep up, particularly if they lack Randolph. If LaMarcus Aldridge, Damian Lillard, and Nicolas Batum score big and the Blazers can control the glass Memphis may be in for a surprise. Chances are that won't happen, but there's hope. This team isn't invulnerable, they're just hard to get over on.
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