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Game 5 Preview: Grizzlies vs. Blazers

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I'm doing the preview a day early because tomorrow I'll be on the road.

So far this season the Grizzlies have done a couple things predictably well:  score and shoot the ball.  Pau Gasol is flirting with 54% shooting and you're not safe with him anywhere within 20 feet of the basket.  Even worse athletic phenomenon Rudy Gay is coming into his own, averaging 14.5 points so far on 50% shooting.  When a specimen like that puts down 1 in 2 shots it's time to get scared.  The Memphis attack is eclectic, with Gasol providing interior work, Gay slashing and dashing, Mike Miller firing deadeye from range, Darko Milicic facing up, and Damon Stoudamire and Kyle Lowry conducting traffic and adding frosting around the edges.  Forward Hakim Warrick, last years emergent surprise, has been missing in action so far, which is about the only low point of the Grizzlies' offensive season.  They shoot very well from distance and draw fouls with regularity.

Defense is another story.

The Grizzlies were historically, epically bad on defense last year--we're talking Ned Flanders sings Motley Crue bad.  So far they haven't shown much improvement, allowing 104 and 121 points in their first two outings before holding Seattle to a measly 98 points last night in a victory.  They take a lot of shots themselves but allow their opponent an obnoxious number.  They clean up the boards OK and offensive rebounds don't kill them, it's turnovers.  Other than Stoudamire they don't have good stewardship of the leather.  Between the fumbles, the porous interior defense, and a lack of commitment and/or athleticism to get back easy shots should almost be a fait accompli against this team.

What I'd Like to See

  1.  Do not under any circumstances get into a distance shooting contest with this team.  They will beat you straight out.  What's more they'll rebound your long misses and convert them into dunks.  Besides there's no reason for it.  A couple passes, a decent pick, or a hard dribble drive should open up a paradise of shot opportunities inside.  Martell Webster is clear to shoot deep.  Everyone else, not so much.
  2.  The Gasol/Aldridge matchup is clearly the most intriguing on the board.  Gasol has the experience and offensive talent to make mincemeat out of Lamarcus.  However Lamarcus is quicker, more agile, and more defensively committed.  His best bet would probably be to beat Gasol down the floor every trip and try to net easy buckets.  (Joel Przybilla having a monster rebounding night would help.)  It's likely that each team will be hoping to exploit this matchup offensively, and it's equally likely that both will be right.
  3.  We need to watch out for Rudy Gay.  If Martell Webster is on him and does not hustle and move his feet it could be a regular Southern barbeque.  This guy has the rocket boosters to singe Martell's eyebrows off, making his face match his cranium.
  4.  Similarly Damon Stoudamire and Kyle Lowry have the potential to cause us problems.  If you have to pick your poison with Memphis' offense choose one of those two shooting from outside without passing the ball if you can.  The real worry, though, is that they'll blow by our guards into the interior and cause us no end of problems with layup attempts, dishes, and fouls drawn.  Damon is not as quick as he used to be but he's still plenty enough for our slower, bigger point guards to handle.  Lowry is worse news in the athleticism department, shoots well, and has also drawn a ton of fouls this season.
  5.  Brandon Roy can return the favor on Mike Miller if that's the matchup they go with.  He's got to be aggressive early and set the tone though.  Drive, score, draw fouls.  This may be the biggest individual key to putting the Grizzlies away.
  6.  As mentioned above a big key to defeating Memphis is exploit, exploit, exploit.  They will absolutely give you more chances than they take for themselves.  The problem is they convert a lot of their chances.  If you don't do the same you end up letting them off the hook.  You're not likely to hold them to 95 points.  You have to score in the 100's to win.
  7.  A zone is probably going to get picked apart by their shooters, but if we play man we absolutely must guard screens effectively.  Free shooters will be the bane of our existence.
  8.  Play defense with your hands instead of your feet and you'll hear whistles all night.  Then you lose.  We all know we're operating on about seven-tenths of a big man already on defense.  We're three whistles away from a nightmare.
Both teams got their first win of the season Wednesday night so nobody's coming with a chip on their shoulder.  Either team has the potential to win or fall on their collective faces.  The problem is Memphis falling on their faces looks like 105 points a night.  Portland falling on their faces is more like 85.  The Grizzlies have a little more of a cushion than the Blazers do.  On the other hand the young Blazers will probably ride the hometown emotion train again and any easy buckets Memphis gives them will only reinforce the feeling.  Plus it's Blazersedge night, which is almost certain to be a win, right?  The Blazers certainly have the potential to be better than this team, but potential has to be fulfilled in order to matter.

For the opposing team viewpoint check out Chip at 3ShadesofBlue.com

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)