Injury Updates (Wednesday): Portland Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts told reporters that LaMarcus Aldridge (ankle) and Nicolas Batum (shoulder) will not play against the Memphis Grizzlies at the Rose Garden on Wednesday night. Meyers Leonard and Victor Claver will start in their place.
Have I mentioned that the Portland Trail Blazers' season-ending schedule pits the guys in red and black against a few playoff teams? And by "a few" I mean "every playoff team imaginable in the conference". The latest entry in the Parade of Pain: the 50-24 Memphis Grizzlies, facing Portland in a 7:00 game televised locally on CSNNW and nationally on NBA TV.
The Blazers met the Grizzlies within the last month, suffering twin losses at the hands of the returning Zach Randolph and a suffocating Memphis defense. That game came near the end of a 14-1 winning streak for the Grizz. They've fallen on slightly harder times since, running 6-5 in their last 11. But they've beaten some hefty teams in that stretch: San Antonio, Boston, Oklahoma City. Randolph's production has been spotty since he came back but Mike Conley and Marc Gasol have played masterfully against all comers, stamping themselves as the scariest duo in the league you'll never mention. Over the last five games Conley has averaged 21 points, 6 assists, 2 steals, 51% shooting, and 43% shooting from the arc. Gasol's 18 points on 58% shooting provided counterpoint. And despite losing 5 of their last 11 they allowed only 1 opponent to reach 100 in that span (and managed to win that game anyway).
That defense remains unchanged from the earlier previews. The Grizzlies 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. They force plenty of turnovers 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 comparatively average.
Their offense depends on paint points with opportunistic jumpers salted in, followed by a league-leading percentage of offensive rebounds. Both Gasol and Randolph can face up. They can score off of screens. It's just a nightmare to stop them and then recover to the wings. Even with Conley on a hot streak none of Memphis' perimeter guys are really reliable, but somebody seems to get on a hot streak most every night. Outside of the board work the Grizzlies' offense pales in comparison to their defense, but that "D" is so good that it barely matters.
More to the point, the Grizzlies present a conundrum that the Blazers have yet to solve. LaMarcus Aldridge is officially listed as "day to day" but there are no indications yet that he'll return for this game. Meyers Leonard and J.J. Hickson have been trying hard but they've gotten plastered in the paint and brutalized on the boards since Aldridge went down. Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap had a comically easy time against the Blazers, as did Andrew Bogut, David Lee, and Carl Landry in Oakland. Now it's Gasol and Randolph. Throw in the stellar performance of every point guard who's faced the Blazers in the last week plus Conley's roll and you start to see the handwriting on the wall. It spells O-U-C-H. Portland's worst defenders match up against the best Memphis scorers. Portland's best defenders match up against the guys who don't matter as much...not that the Blazer wings have played 48 minutes of hard defense in the last few games anyway. The Blazers will have to recommit, emerging from their "Summer is only a few games away" rut, to even have a chance tonight. Portland has enough three-point firepower to give the Grizzlies fits. They'll need to control the boards and run whenever possible to keep the defense off balance. Maybe home energy and disgust with getting embarrassed nightly can turn the tide. If not, this could be one of the ugliest games of the season.
GrizzlyBearBlues will handicap this game from the other side.
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