Thursday, November 5
Moda Center | 7:30 p.m. PST | Local TV/Radio: TNT; 620 AM
Portland injury report: Memphis injury report: Marc Gasol (Questionable), Jarell Martin (Out)
SBN Affiliate: Grizzly Bear Blues | Blazer's Edge Night 2016
The Portland Trail Blazers hope to win their third straight game when they face off against the Memphis Grizzlies at the Moda Center tonight at 7:30pm.
The Blazers are coming off an impressive 108-92 victory over the Utah Jazz last night in Salt Lake City. The starting backcourt of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum led the way for the Blazers with 35 and 27 points, respectively.
The Grizzlies arrived in Portland late Tuesday night after beating the Sacramento Kings 103-89 in Sacramento. Former Blazer Zach Randolph was Memphis' top performer with 20 points and 11 rebounds.
Tonight's game marks the first meeting between these teams since Memphis beat Portland in five games in the first round of last year's playoffs.
In direct contrast to Portland, the Grizzlies' current roster is nearly identical to the team that beat the Blazers last season. Matt Barnes was their only major off-season addition, and no essential players left Memphis. As such, Memphis continues to employ the "grit and grind" style that has become their trademark over the last several seasons. The Grizzlies play at a slow pace and rarely shoot from the outside on offense, preferring to punish the opposition down low. On defense they stifle opponents by controlling the paint and getting into passing lanes, forcing low efficiency shots.
Leading the way for Memphis is the high-low attack of their big men Randolph and Marc Gasol. Gasol often looks like a 21st Century Bill Walton, leading the Memphis offense with passes out of the high post and the occasional mid-range jumper, while also anchoring the interior defense. Randolph is a highly skilled low post scoring threat who somehow averages nearly 10 rebounds per game for his career despite barely being able to dunk.
In the playoffs last season Memphis used Randolph to frustrate Portland star forward LaMarcus Aldridge with physical play. Aldridge's inability to get on track offensively doomed the Blazer offense that relied on its All-Star for guaranteed points. Portland coach Terry Stotts countered Randolph's physical play by increasing Meyers Leonard's playing time significantly. Leonard's outside shooting ability helped to draw the Memphis big men away from the basket and open up the floor for Portland.
A solid shooting performance from Leonard will be essential if the Blazers hope to have any chance to win against the Grizzlies tonight. Unfortunately, Leonard sprained his ankle last night against Utah and his status for tonight's game is unclear. If he is unable to play Portland will likely have to utilize a small ball lineup with Al-Farouq Aminu at power forward and hope to extend Gasol or Randolph out of their comfort zone in the paint. The alternative of playing Ed Davis and Mason Plumlee together is not appealing, as both players operate primarily in Gasol and Randolph's wheelhouse around the basket. Noah Vonleh is too inexperienced to compete with the expertise of the Memphis big men.
In addition to Randolph and Gasol, the Grizzlies' other star is starting point guard Mike Conley. Conley is a solid defensive guard who also acts as one of Memphis' primary outside shooters. They rely heavily on Conley to space the floor and keep defenses honest against the Grizzlies' outside-inside offensive game. Conley and Lillard are often compared as fringe All-Star point guards in the Western Conference. Lillard may feel an extra sense of motivation tonight to prove that he is definitively the better player after a dismal performance in last year's playoffs against the Memphis guards.
Courtney Lee and Tony Allen round out Memphis' starting lineup. Lee, like Conley, is primarily called upon to space the floor, while Allen is one of the best perimeter defenders in the league. In addition to Leonard's shooting, Portland will need McCollum to come out ahead against Lee or Allen. McCollum was the other surprise in last season's playoffs, regularly punishing the Memphis perimeter defenders. McCollum must continue creating his own shot, like he did last night against Utah, in order for the Blazers' offense to be effective. The Grizzlies were mediocre at defending the three point shot last season so if McCollum can penetrate and force double teams Portland may be able to generate open looks from the outside. The same strategy will apply for Lillard.
Rounding out the Memphis rotation is Barnes, the athletic but inconsistent Jeff Green, and low post scoring threat Brandan Wright. Long-time veteran Vince Carter also sees occasional minutes for the Grizzlies.
Tonight's game will be the third of a five game road swing for the Grizzlies. Memphis, however, may be more rested than the Blazers who had to fly back from Utah last night while the Grizzlies were already waiting in Portland. The Grizzlies have been an effective road team, winning 24 and 23 away games in the last two seasons.
Memphis has had a very unusual start to the 2015-16 campaign. Despite their winning record they have been outscored by 9.4 points per game after losing by 30 to Cleveland and 50 to Golden state.
Gasol signed a maximum contract extension with the Grizzlies this summer. He played high school basketball in Memphis while his brother Pau Gasol played for the Grizzlies.
The Blazers lead the all-time season series between these two teams by ten games (42-32). Memphis was victorious in the first round last season in the only playoff series between the Grizzlies and Blazers.
The Grizzlies notched their first victory in franchise history at Portland's expense on November 3, 1995 in Portland. That game was also the first regular season contest played at the Rose Garden.
This is Portland's only game televised by TNT this season. The Blazers will appear on ESPN four times.
UPDATE: Per Jay Allen of 620 AM radio, Meyers Leonard has been listed as doubtful for tonight's game against the Memphis Grizzlies.