Memphis Grizzlies (13-2) vs. Portland Trail Blazers (12-3)
Friday, November 28
Moda Center; Portland, OR | 7:00 p.m. PST | Local TV/Radio: CSNNWHD; 620 AM
Out for the Blazers: C.J. McCollum | Out for the Grizzlies: N/A
SBN Affiliate: Grizzly Bear Blues | Timmay's Viewing Guide | BE's 2014-15 Grizzlies Season Preview | Blazer's Edge Night
The Blazers return from their Thanksgiving break to host the Memphis Grizzlies at the Moda Center tonight.
The 13-2 Grizzlies sit atop the Western Conference standings, coming into tonight's matchup riding a three-game winning streak. Portland has won nine straight and 11 of its last 12 games.
Both teams put plenty of points on the board -- over the last five games, Memphis is averaging 106.8 a night, while the Blazers are right behind them with 104 points per game in that span. The Grizzlies and Portland are both top-three rebounding teams in that time and also among the league-leaders in assists per game. Both teams feature efficient offenses and have solid shooting percentages from the field.
While the Blazers let All-Star power forward LaMarcus Aldridge work for half his shots from the midrange and surround him with capable three-point shooters, though, Memphis takes a different approach to scoring. Ranked No. 28 in the NBA in three-pointers attempted per game this season, the Grizzlies rely much heavier on points in the paint.
Center Marc Gasol gets most of his touches inside, where he's an elite finisher. For the last five games, he's hit over 79 percent of his attempts at the rim and can consistently make jumpers out to about 15 feet. Much of Memphis' offense flows through Gasol, who passes well for a big man.
Power forward Zach Randolph gets about a dozen shots up a night, though he's been inconsistent from the field the last five games. He'll occasionally take a midrange jumper, though it's not been a good shot for him. In the paint, Randolph is a much more capable scorer, particularly under the basket where his craftiness and use of his bulky frame offsets his lack of height -- he's listed at 6-foot-9 -- and athleticism.
Point guard Mike Conley initiates the Grizzlies' offense, leading the team in assists per game. Over the last couple weeks, he's torched the net from all angles. Conley rarely relies on his jumper, but it's more than serviceable right now, and he can get to the basket and finish well. He's effective in the pick-and-roll game, and can also knock down threes, sitting at 46.7 percent from deep on three attempts per game over the last five.
Memphis coach Dave Joerger goes about 11-deep with his playing rotation, giving backup shooting guard Quincy Pondexter heavy minutes off the bench behind starter Tony Allen, aka "The Grindfather." Many of Pondexter's shots come in the corners, where he's a good shooter, particularly from the right side. He occasionally gets to the rim, but he's an average finisher. Allen is on the court for his defensive prowess, understanding his limitations offensively and shooting mostly inside while passing up plenty of other shots.
Starting wing Courtney Lee is a solid jumpshooter, also getting to the rim where he's been able to convert well recently. Lee's three-point shot has been deadly the last five games, as he's canned half his outside attempts in that time. Backup small forward Tayshaun Prince plays plenty of minutes but his shot's been off lately. The same could be said for point guard Beno Udrih, but even when his shots aren't feeling, he runs Joerger's offense efficiently. He's managed to supplant last year's backup point guard Nick Calathes in the rotation while he served a 20-game suspension for use of a banned substance.
Backup power forward Jon Leuer is an aggressive shooter in about 20 minutes a game. He can score efficiently inside, but also has good jumpshooting range for a big man. Center Kosta Koufas can score in the middle. Offseason free agent signing Vince Carter, shooting guard, has struggled with his shooting all season and hasn't shown signs of improvement over the last several games. He went 1-of-3 from deep and 2-of-5 overall Wednesday night against the Lakers, playing 13 minutes and displaying what a typical stat-line for him looks like right now.
Defensively, Memphis shuts down the paint, plays the passing lanes, keeps a lid on opponents' perimeter shooting and doesn't foul often. In 15 games so far, only the Timberwolves, Lakers, Kings and Celtics have scored more than 100 points against the Grizzlies.
The Blazers' offense is rolling right now, thanks in large part to point guard Damian Lillard. He hit 4-of-8 threes Wednesday night against the Hornets, picking up 22 points and seven assists. Lillard's finishing inside lately has been a bit questionable, but he's hit about half his midrange jumpers the last couple weeks and 44.8 percent of his threes.
Aldridge went 3-for-18 from the floor Wednesday night, and his jumpshot hasn't looked right lately -- over the last five games, he's shot just 29.3 percent from the midrange. He's supplemented his scoring by getting to the free throw line and is the team's leading rebounder.
Starting shooting guard Wesley Matthews woke up from an extended slumber against the Hornets, draining 10 of his 15 field goal attempts and 6-of-9 three-pointers. He scored mostly via his jumpshot on Wednesday, but he's been a solid interior scorer from his wing position all season. Allen is widely regarded as one of the best individual perimeter defenders in the league, so Matthews will certainly have to earn his points tonight.
Small forward Nicolas Batum isn't quite back to his old self since returning from a knee contusion last week. He's displayed a reliable jumper and has scored well at the rim in spurts, but Batum's three-point struggles right now are really affecting his ability to spread the floor, as he's gone just 3-of-16 from outside since his injury. Notably, though, Batum's percentages from deep are skewed heavily by his complete inability to hit from the right side lately. He's been decent in limited attempts from the left perimeter.
Portland's center duo of starter Robin Lopez and backup Chris Kaman combined to go 11-of-22 from the floor Wednesday night for 27 total points. Kaman usually hits about half his shots while Lopez makes over 62 percent of his, though Kaman is a more consistent scoring option when on the floor while Lopez is more of an advantageous scorer who gets a handful of wide-open looks every game when opponents fail to respect his jumpshot. His height also allows him to score over smaller centers.
Backup wing Allen Crabbe has been good for around 17 minutes a night lately, and though he rarely looks for his own shot, he's averaged a couple three-point attempts a night since Blazers coach Terry Stotts inserted him into the rotation a few weeks ago. Crabbe's made 41.7 percent of his threes the last five games. Point guard Steve Blake hasn't seen much consistency with his shot recently, but he affects the game in different ways, controlling the tempo, setting up teammates and playing inspired defense. Similarly, big man Joel Freeland is a key piece to Stotts' rotation off the bench, but his shooting isn't always reliable and he stays on the court with hustle, effective post defense and a knack for keeping offensive possessions alive with his work on the boards.
Forwards Thomas Robinson and Dorell Wright, forward/center Meyers Leonard and wing Will Barton all failed to see action Wednesday in Charlotte, and will likely only be used for spot minutes tonight, if at all, or in a blowout situation.
Individually, Randolph provides the toughest matchup for Portland on the glass. He's particularly skilled at pulling in offensive rebounds and scoring on second-chance opportunities. Kaman has been solid in the rebounding department lately for the Blazers. As a team, Portland leads the league in total rebounds per game over the last five with 49.2 per contest, but Memphis is right behind with 47 per game in that same span. Expect both teams to be fighting hard over misses tonight, with no rebounds inside coming easy. In three games last season, the Grizzlies averaged more rebounds than the Blazers on both sides of the ball, but that was without Kaman in Portland's rotation.
Memphis is not just "Grit 'n Grind" right now, as they've not only put the clamps on opposing teams with their defense, but have manufactured plenty of points behind the efforts of Gasol, Conley, Randolph and a few key bench contributors. In a similar vein, the Blazers are winning not just because they are out-shooting opposing teams, but also due to a vastly improved defense that has held opponents to just 93.8 points per game the last five and 95.4 a night for the season.
Tonight's matchup features two of the NBA's hottest early-season teams, both playing efficient, effective basketball but doing so with differing methods. Memphis controls the paint on both sides of the ball, while Portland bombs away from outside and shuts down the perimeter on the defensive end. Whichever team can impose its style of play on the other will have a huge advantage in picking up the win tonight.
-- Chris Lucia | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter