Game Time: 5:00 p.m. Pacific TV: Comcast
Yeah, Memphis is in trouble.
They're not in trouble because they've (at least temporarily) lost Allen Iverson. He was never a good fit with their roster and his being absent will probably end up a blessing to them as much as anything. At least it'll be clear that the hope of this team is still its young wings and not an old wingnut. They're not in trouble because they lack talent. Rudy Gay, O.J. Mayo, Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol, Mike Conley...there are worse lineups in the NBA. They're in trouble because it's the same old story with the Grizzlies: somebody scores 25 or 30 or 40 each night, they amass a lot of stats, and they lose because they can't stop anybody from scoring 115 on them. They're a video game more than a team.
Case in point: Rudy Gay. Leading scorer. Good size at 6'8" and 230. One of the best pure athletes in the league. He's legitimately terrifying on the break. Quick as a hummingbird blinking. Soars like a hawk. And plays such chicken [stuff] defense that his own teammates (not exactly the Steel Curtain themselves) are calling him out. His 51% shooting, 22 a night...they're no good. Or not as much good as they should be. He leaves the team playing 4-on-5 on the other end and there goes 50.5% shooting for the entire opposing team.
Case in point: O.J. Mayo. He's a good ball-handler. He sees the court. He's got talent coming out his ears and could be one of the dominant point guards in the league. But he loves to shoot. He's more comfortable at off-guard. Except at 6'4" and 210 pounds your once-dominant point guard gets pushed around at the two. He dropped 40 on the Nuggets last week. Brilliant. But he took 25 shots to do it. He took 20 shots to get 22 the next night. When he doesn't dominate the scoring his numbers get more pedestrian. Gay, who also likes to score, is apparently not Mayo's biggest fan.
Case in point: Zach Randolph. I probably don't have to explain this one in present company.
These are good players, as are Conley and Gasol. They're just not good together. Memphis has taken the kind of player you could stand having one of on your team and collected multiple copies. Each has talent. Each has huge shortcomings. The shortcomings are getting exposed more than the talent is shining.
What do the Grizzlies like to do? They like to score. They'll run if they can. They're a good offensive rebounding team. You're not afraid to have any of the main guys shoot. Their big guys have range. Their small guys have more range. They'll sucker you in with it and then drive and create free throws. They'll post and spin any direction. They'll dunk. They'll dipsy-doodle. If it deals with putting the ball in the bucket they're good at it. They have a puncher's chance in any given contest. There's always the possibility that they'll simply outscore you.
The Grizz are also good rebounders up and down the line, getting their hands on a ton of balls off the glass. Marc Gasol has become a beast in this area.
What don't the Grizzlies like to do? Almost anything else. They aren't good individual defenders. They don't help out or rotate well. They don't bother the passing lanes. They don't block shots. They can't watch the post. They can't cover distance shooters. They often get caught flat-footed and staring. Plus they don't pass the ball well and they turn it over a bunch. A good rebounding team with that kind of athleticism should be generating more shot attempts than their opponents but the Grizz average three fewer. Combined with a woeful field goal percentage deficit (47.4% to 50.5%) they're hamstrung before they start. It's even worse from the arc. Memphis attempts 10.6 threes a game and shoots 36.5% on them. Their opponents have combined for 18.6 three-point attempts per game and they average 44.6%. Most of the best shooters in the league don't hit 44.6% of their threes but entire teams are doing it against the Grizz. With those disadvantages weighing them down their extra foul shots don't matter.
It's understandable why Memphis tows a 1-6 record behind them into this game. The one mitigating factor is that they've been on a five-game road trip for the last 9 days. They're actually 1-1 at home, the lone victory coming against the Raptors. They'll want to rebound tonight. They'll have some fans behind them. They probably also have some pride. They'll want this to be a game that changes the course of their early season. It's up to Portland not to let it become that.
Pivotal Points to the Game
1. You can let Memphis score 100, you just can't let them score 130. And trust me, they can. You're not going to stop all of their individual scorers. You want to contain the damage to one or two guys and generally make them pay for trying to get more people involved. Play Conley for the pass, play everyone else for the shot. Somebody scores 30, somebody scores 20, you win.
2. The Blazer centers versus Gasol should be a pivotal matchup. Oden has to be wary of foul trouble when the Grizz attack the rim. He doesn't need to score on Gasol as much as police the boards and keep offensive rebounds from the entire Memphis team. Przybilla needs to continue the rebounding when he gets in.
3. Get back in transition.
4. Exploit turnovers.
5. Learn your lesson from the ‘Wolves game Sunday night. Share the ball and find the easy shot on each possession. Run when you can. If not, penetrate and either finish, get fouled, or dish for the open three. Every basket that's not right at the rim should have an assist attached tonight just like Sunday. No one-on-on fests. No jumpers off of a held ball. Just please...make it as easy as the Grizzlies will let you.
6. If LaMarcus scores as much as Zach this game will be easier.
Extended road trips are always difficult. The trick is to win the games you should so that the tougher games make the difference between a good and great trip, not an average or disappointing one. This is actually something the Blazers have done well during this era. Let's hope it continues.
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