Would anything that happens with this team surprise you anymore? The book says that we should easily beat Memphis at home tonight and then lose to Phoenix on the road tomorrow to finish out the year with a 41-41 record. I'm not going to predict that. Are you? After all this is the team that in the last week alone flushed the L*kers and Mavericks but came out with one of their worst efforts of the season against...the Kings. Would it surprise anybody to see something weird happen? Losses inverted? Both wins? No wins? Whatever happens there's always the tendency to let the last couple of games, good or bad, influence one's perceptions for an entire summer. Resist it. If Travis scores 40 in each of the next two games that doesn't mean he's the next coming of KG. If Roy can't muster his usual effort that doesn't mean he's a bum. All of the questions that can be answered have been and those still without answers won't find any in the last 96 minutes of the year. The only thing at stake is whether we'll finish at, just above, or just below .500. I don't know about you, but it would make me feel pretty good to make it "at" or "just above".
Which brings us to tonight's game...the final home contest of the season. Memphis isn't that good. 22-58 will tell you that at a glance. They don't rebound well. They turn the ball over too much. Their defense borders on atrocious the same way Hillary Swank borders on being a little manly. They're soft inside. They're not shot-blockers. They don't have experienced guys running the offense and their passing is spotty. They have basically no way to control a game or bend the opponent to their will.
That doesn't mean Memphis is a pushover or that they're not dangerous. They can do one thing pretty well, and that's score. Teams that can score always have a chance. Every once in a while they'll pop off with 110+ on an opponent. It's easy to lose when that happens. All you have to do is have a little bit of an off night. With a team like Portland every night is a coin flip. If the wind blows right and our sails are set wrong we could go home disappointed.
The chief cause of opponents' misery is Rudy Gay, who has parlayed his deep athleticism into rock-solid, occasionally scary production. Giving this guy any kind of daylight is a bad idea. Letting him near the ball when he's on the run is pretty much suicide. Portland just does not have an athlete with the physical skills and chops to stop him. Sweet shooting forward Mike Miller has had another nice season for the Grizz but he's been out with back problems. His absence would go a long ways towards helping Portland's cause tonight. After that you get into the realm of the occasionally good players. Hakim Warrick and Kyle Lowry can score in droves on the right night. Rookie Mike Conley has been tearing it up lately. Of particular interest to our short-handed center corps might be our old friend Darko Milicic. He appears to be in the coach's doghouse lately as he hasn't played much in April. However he's not a complete patsy anymore. He could drop 20 on you if you don't pay attention.
There's no doubt that Memphis will have to bowl over us in order to win this game, simply out-racing us to points. But there's also no doubt that they could conceivably do it. If we want this game we should be able to take it, but the last time I said that was against the Kings and you saw what happened there...
What I'd Like To See
- We need energy and purpose tonight. To that end I'd like to call out one of our hidden assets: the crowd. This is the last time you'll see this team play in person for the next six months. This is the last time you'll see this particular group of guys together in person ever. Any way you slice it, this has been one heck of a season. I would expect the crowd to be in this game from the get-go and appreciate everything the guys do out there. I would also expect that a rumbling swell would begin in the Rose Garden at the two-minute announcement in the game and get louder and louder until the final horn...culminating in a massive standing ovation for this squad and what they've done this year. (On your feet at two minutes and don't let up!) Maybe that energy will transfer to the team.
- Winning the free throw battle should go a long way towards winning the game. The side that dominates is getting more of the right kind of shots.
- Be aware that Memphis frustrates easily and is not really good at helping each other out of jams. Double-team strategically (Rudy) in order to prevent their main guys (Rudy) from getting points easily (Rudy). Keep the ball in the point guards' hands and make them dribble out a lot of clock and then make tough decisions.
- Get back in transition! No easy buckets for Memphis equals an exponentially longer road for them to 110. We've been masterful at holding teams down in transition the last few games. Keep it up tonight.
- If anybody sees a defender on the Grizzlies, raise your hand. Everybody with your hand up go and get glasses immediately. And don't drive yourself either! Portland plays two kinds of offense...brilliant and DumbChuck. There is ZERO excuse to be DumbChuckers tonight. Drive at least two out of every three possessions and either score or dish for an uncovered mid-range jumper. If we play smart we will not be stopped.
- Did I mention the crowd should be loud?