The Blazers land in Memphis tonight to take on the Grizzlies in game three of a grueling five-game road trip.
Averaging 95.8 points per game this season -- good for No. 25 in the league -- the Grizzlies are currently riding a hot offensive streak, at least by their standards. Over the last five games, Memphis is putting up 102 points a night on 49.5 percent field-goal shooting.
The Grizzlies were one of the worst three-point shooting teams in the league last year, adding only an injury-riddled Mike Miller at small forward -- now in his fourteenth season -- to the roster this offseason to bolster the outside shooting. True, Memphis is still dead-last in the NBA in three-pointers attempted per game, but the team's been serviceable behind the arc this season at 35.9 percent and in the last five games, they're hitting 48.5 percent from deep. Memphis still attempts fewer threes than any other team in the league, but it's now a shot that requires attention by opposing defenses when perimeter players are left open.
The Grizzlies had a recent stretch of seven games in which a different player led the team in scoring each outing. Right now, Memphis' offense embraces this variety, its No. 1 scorer over the last five games (big man Marc Gasol with 16.4 points) and it's No. 7 scorer (guard Courtney Lee with 9.4 points) only separated by seven points per night. Contrast that with the Blazers' offense, which has a difference of 15.2 points scored per game between its No. 1 and No. 7 scorers, and it's easy to get a frame of reference for how balanced the Grizzlies' offensive attack currently is.
The most efficient high-volume shooter for Memphis lately is forward Zach Randolph, averaging 16.3 points per game on 52.8 percent shooting. Randolph is an effective jump-shooter, with range that extends to just within the arc, though he's also crafty under the hoop, scoring on a variety of post moves he's honed over the years to counter his lack of athleticism relative to other top power forwards. Randolph scores the majority of his points in the paint, half of them off offense generated by himself.
As mentioned before, Gasol leads the team in points per game with 16.4, though he's slightly less efficient than Randolph with a 48.5 field-goal percentage the last five games. Gasol attempts about half his shots from the mid-range, where he's a decent scorer. His best work, though, probably comes near the hoop and almost two-thirds of Gasol's scores are assisted by teammates.
Point guard Mike Conley actually attempts more shots per game than any other Grizzly, but he's going through a bit of a rough patch with his short jumper and finishing in the paint, converting on only about 38 percent of his field goals the last five games. Conley's three-point shooting has kept his scoring numbers afloat lately, as he's led Memphis from outside, attempting almost four threes a night on 47.4 percent shooting.
Starting wings Lee and Tayshaun Prince take a bit of a backseat in Memphis coach Dave Joerger's offense. Lee prefers the mid-range jumper, also occasionally taking it inside. Currently, he's hitting over half his shots and 41.7 percent of his threes. Prince -- behind some apparently shaky shooting mechanics -- only contributes about five points on five shots a night.
The Grizzlies have sported one of the most productive benches in the entire league as of late, averaging 42.7 points per game on 57.1 percent shooting as a unit the last 10 contests.
Miller, guards Nick Calathes and Tony Allen and bigs Jon Leuer and Kosta Koufos compose the majority of Joerger's reserve rotation.
Allen leads the way for the second unit, a player who understands his limitations, only really attempting shots close to the hoop, mostly off the dribble. Miller and and Leuer are both marksmen from outside, hitting two-thirds of their threes the last five games. Koufos has hit 62.5 of his shots in that timespan, almost exclusively in the paint. Calathes is more of a distributor, picking up 3.2 assists a game in under 18 minutes a night.
Memphis' defense has been its calling card the last few seasons, and this year is no different. Over the last couple weeks, the Grizzlies have given up only 93.8 points per game, 45.8 percent shooting from the field and 39.2 percent shooting from deep. While these percentages are fairly average league-wide, Memphis' defense is predicated more on slowing the game down, forcing opponents into a slower pace than preferred. The Grizzlies don't allow a lot of shots to go up from anywhere, play the passing lanes well and don't put opponents at the free-throw line often.
The Blazers will have to find a way to keep the flow of the game moving against Memphis, because they rely on a lot of ball movement and a high volume of shot attempts. Portland also picks up a lot of extra points at the free-throw line, which could be problematic if the Grizzlies foul at their normal rate.
Point guard Damian Lillard has backed off his scoring role a bit in the Blazers' offense since forward LaMarcus Aldridge came back from injury recently. Lillard has taken 12.8 shots a game his last five -- more than three below his season average -- and has scored five points below his season average in the same span with 16 points a night. While he's made a slightly higher percentage of his overall field-goals, Lillard is down on his three-point percentage, free-throw attempts and assists the last couple weeks. Tonight, he'll match up with a great individual defender in Conley and a Memphis defense that has five guys who generate at least one steal a night (you could expand that list to six players if you count the .9 steals Calathes averages).
Aldridge has stepped back into his lead-dog position, putting up over 20 shots a game his last five. The problem? He's hitting just 39.2 percent of those attempts. Aldridge has boosted his scoring output with six shots at the free-throw line every night in those five games, and he took 10 against the Rockets in a loss Sunday. Aldridge may not be able to pick up those kind of easy scoring opportunities against this Grizzlies defense, though, so if his shot's not falling tonight, it'll be an uphill battle for the Blazers.
As has been the case lately, the trio of wings Wesley Matthews, Nicolas Batum and sixth-man Mo Williams has performed similarly from the field, all taking about 10-12 shots a night and converting on about 40 percent of them. All three have struggled from outside the last handful of games and only Matthews had made a concerted effort to get to the line, culminated in the 13 free-throws he attempted against the Rockets. Points won't be easy to come by for the Blazer guarded by Allen -- an NBA All-Defensive first-teamer each of the last two seasons -- but when Miller or Prince are the matchup, it should be easier to score from the wing.
Center Robin Lopez is an efficient post-scorer, nailing over 60 percent of his shots lately. In another solid outing against Houston a couple days ago, Lopez scored 11 points on 4-7 shooting, including 3-4 from the free-throw line. Last time Memphis and the Blazers met in late January, he went for 14 points with 8 trips to the line, so Lopez might be primed for another good night.
Portland coach Terry Stotts played a nine-man rotation on Sunday, opting to keep wings Will Barton and Dorell Wright on the bench in favor of guard C.J. McCollum and forward Thomas Robinson. McCollum responded with a 3-8 performance in 15 minutes, while Robinson had a pretty rough outing, not even attempting a shot and missing both of his free-throws. Center Meyers Leonard has picked up about a dozen minutes at the end of the rotation the last several games, though he's been mostly a non-factor offensively.
Over the last few weeks, the Blazers' defense has performed well against the Hawks and Nuggets but the Lakers, Mavericks and Rockets were all able to find ways to score. Portland is still slowing down teams from beyond the arc and limiting percentages closer to the hoop, but they've put opposing teams at the free-throw line an average of almost 30 times a game the last five, with 79 combined free-throws going to Dallas and Houston the last two games alone, a tough hole to climb out of.
The Grizzlies are a good rebounding team, winning decisively on the boards the last several weeks due to the individual efforts of Gasol, Randolph and Koufos. The Blazers, though, have out-rebounded opposing teams handily the last five games too, averaging 52.6 rebounds of their own to 41.4 for the opposition. Recently, the Rockets and Mavericks were both beaten convincingly on the glass by Portland, so if Lopez, Aldridge, Robinson and an energized Batum -- he's leading the team with 13.2 rebounds a night the last several games -- can come out and match recent efforts, they can make life hard for Memphis tonight in the middle.
The Grizzlies haven't lost at home in over a month, and are playing probably their best basketball of the season right now. The scoring for Memphis is spread out pretty evenly among Joerger's rotation, so the Blazers will have to play focused defense and not allow too many guys to go off offensively. Letting Conley, Gasol and Randolph all have solid outings would be difficult to overcome, because the Grizzlies have the NBA's highest-scoring bench the last several weeks and Portland's reserve contributions are inconsistent at best, besides those of Williams. The Blazers also need to hold onto the ball better tonight, because they've coughed up more than 17 turnovers a game recently and Memphis will push the ball on the fastbreak if given the opportunity.
Expect a clash of styles, with the defensively focused Grizzlies and their deliberate, balanced offense against the Blazers, a team that often relies on three-pointers and is much more top-heavy than Memphis. Whichever team is able to force its preferred style of play on the other tonight will likely have the upper hand.
-- Chris Lucia | email@example.com | Twitter