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Game 53 Preview: Grizzlies vs. Blazers

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A Look at the Grizzlies

The first thing that stands out about the Grizzlies, particularly in connection with tonight's game, is their 3-20 road record.  That's the foundation of their 15-38 overall mark.  Welcome to being a very young team.  (And Portland fans, there but for the grace of Roy and Aldridge go we.) 

Memphis is one of a handful of teams that gets up fewer shots per game than the Blazers do.  Pace should not be an issue tonight unless Portland completely abandons transition defense and allows the athletic wings of the Grizzlies to run wild and free.  That would be a huge mistake.  Failing that, however, Portland looks to have a good chance to win a grind-it-out game.  This is because the Blazers outshine the Grizzlies in almost every area required to win a halfcourt game. 

First and foremost the Blazers rebound better.  The Grizz aren't chopped liver but outside of rookie center Marc Gasol, the guys they rely on can be pushed around.  In particular the Grizzles don't have the offensive rebounding capability the Blazers show on a near-nightly basis.  That means fewer second opportunities and fewer points generated.  In a battle for ball control Portland should prevail.

The Grizzlies are also poor shooters, a massive liability when attempts are limited.  Their overall field goal percentage is 44.9%, 23rd in the league.  Their three-point percentage is 33.7%, 28th in the league.  Therein lies the rub.  The Grizz can't make opposing teams take the bait and head outside.  That leaves Rudy Gay, O.J. Mayo, and Mike Conley trying to manufacture drives in heavy traffic, much the way Sebastian Telfair and Darius Miles used to for the Blazers when they lost 50+ games per season.

Neither do the Grizzlies defend well.  They're fairly active on the perimeter with those athletic bodies but they don't have enough cohesiveness or experience to synergize with the interior players even when they're playing interior guys who care about defense.  They don't block shots and their big guys are too often forced out of position, leaving easy shots for the attacker.

Unsurprisingly Memphis does draw fouls.  Gay and Mayo are already getting credit because of their athleticism but Hakim Warrick, Marc Gasol, and Kyle Lowry also cause problems for defenders.  These guys know how to score individually which includes using their bodies to advantage.

And this is the potential danger area for Portland.  The Blazers are vulnerable to guys who can overwhelm you, which Memphis absolutely can.  Gay has always caused us problems and Mayo only adds to the challenge.  You can imagine guys like Roy, Fernandez, Batum, and Outlaw struggling to keep up with them.  If we rely on the centers alone to keep the rim free of assault they're going to draw fouls which will then free Gasol and Warrick to concentrate on offense.  They'll also be in position for offensive rebounds.  The Grizzlies are 10-7 when they top 100.  Those guys right behind their stars are the key to that.

Keys to the Game 

1.  Keep the Grizzlies out of the middle.  If the Blazers do the job right Gay and Mayo will be scoring on jumpers and our centers will remain relatively unmolested and free to rebound.  Points in the paint will be a big stat tonight.

2.  Get back in transition!!!!!  No Rudy Gay highlights tonight please!

3.  The Blazer bench should be scoring all over the Grizzlies' bench.  This is one time when it'll be more than OK to run.  Other than Hakim Warrick the Grizz have nobody coming off the pines who both shoots and hits frequently.  You hope that Roy and Aldridge match the scoring of Mayo and Gay and then the rest of the Blazers outscore the rest of the Grizzlies handily.

4.  Rebound every Memphis miss.  Low-shot teams can't overcome that kind of bottleneck.

5.  If all else fails, keep the ball in the hands of their point guards and make them scorers.  Mike Conley and Kyle Lowry are decent but they're not going to beat you alone.

Final Thoughts

We said before the break that the seven-game stretch beginning on February 6th with the first Oklahoma City game and ending on February 22nd against the Clippers would be the launching pad to an easier run to the playoffs.  We wanted 6-1 with 5-2 being the minimum.  So far Portland is 2-2 in that stretch.  That makes tonight's game important.  If you don't gain ground here you're going to have to make it up against the likes of Dallas, San Antonio, Philadelphia, and Phoenix in the midst of a seeding scramble.  That's not impossible, but it would be so much easier to just win the games you're supposed to.  This game counts in the run to the postseason.  Just win it easily for once, please?

You can find out Memphis' innermost thoughts from our very good friends at 3ShadesofBlue.

Enter tonight's Jersey contest form here. 

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)