Memphis Grizzlies (39-14, No. 2 in the West) vs. Portland Trail Blazers (36-18, No. 4 in the West)
Sunday, February 22
Moda Center; Portland, OR | 6:00 p.m. PST | Local TV/Radio: CSNNWHD; 620 AM
Out for the Blazers: Joel Freeland | Out for the Grizzlies: Vince Carter
SBN Affiliate: Grizzly Bear Blues | Timmay's Viewing Guide | Blazer's Edge Night
The Blazers try to move on from Friday's 16-point road loss to the Utah Jazz when they host the Memphis Grizzlies tonight at the Moda Center.
Portland returned from the extended All-Star break Friday night in Utah and promptly turned in one of its worst performances of the season, losing 76-92 to the No. 12 team in the Western Conference.
The Oregonian's Joe Freeman has the stats from the blowout loss:
How bad were they? Well, the Blazers set or tied season-lows in a variety of offensive categories. They scored their fewest points of the season, made their fewest number of field goals (26), shot their worst from the field (36.1 percent) and from three-point range (18.2), and handed out their fewest number of assists (12). Also, the team that entered the game ranked second in the NBA three-point shooting, made just four, tying a season-low. The Blazers scored in the teens in each of the final three quarters, putting up a meager 19, 16 and 17 points in the second, third and fourth quarters, respectively.
Ouch. Horrible ball movement, turnovers, an inability to score even remotely efficiently from anywhere on the court. Meanwhile, the Jazz had advantages in every single box-score statistic, needing only 30 minutes of action from star wing Gordon Hayward to finish off the Blazers in what devolved into a laugher.
Even as Portland laid its biggest egg of the season to a team that's on the opposite end of the Western Conference rankings, Blazer fans still had cause to celebrate this weekend: Guards Arron Afflalo and Alonzo Gee -- acquired in a deal with the Nuggets Thursday morning that sent forwards Will Barton, Thomas Robinson and Victor Claver, along with future draft picks, to Denver -- practiced with their new team for the first time yesterday.
"I want to make this clear: I'm here to help this team reach its goal of winning a title," Afflalo told the assembled media after practice. "It's been 38 years since the Trail Blazers last won an NBA championship. It isn't just enough to be a contender -- it's time for us to show the media, fans and most importantly, ourselves, why we're a championship-caliber team."
Gee, who figures to be at or near the end of coach Terry Stotts' playing rotation, is hoping to make an impact on the team defensively.
Afflalo has hit 38.4 percent of his three-pointers over the course of his eight-year career and, though he was shooting just 33.7 percent from deep in 53 games with Denver this season, he's expected to find better shots in Portland's offense and get back to making field goals from outside regularly. He has a reputation as a good individual defender and, while he doesn't lock down the perimeter as effectively as he did earlier in his career, Afflalo provides immediate improvement to the Blazers' bench defense.
Portland will need all the defense it can get against Memphis tonight; In two games against the Grizzlies earlier this year -- a 112-99 spanking in late-November and a 102-98 loss that wasn't as close as the final score would indicate -- the Blazers have given up averages of 107 points on 50 percent shooting from outside and 52.2 percent overall shooting from the floor. In those two losses, Portland also ceded 25 free throws and 24.5 assists per game.
Memphis is not adept at attacking from outside, and the three-pointer is a shot the team is generally content to pass on unless left open. Instead, Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger uses the low post skills of forward Zach Randolph, the jumper of center Marc Gasol and point guard Mike Conley's ability to drive to the rim and finish to wear down opposing teams, especially in the paint where they lead the NBA in scoring.
Gasol, one of the best passing big men in the game, initiates a lot of Memphis' offense from the high post. Much of his points come inside where he has good touch, but he's also able to step back and pop the jumper. Against the Blazers this year, Gasol has averaged 20.5 points per game on 55.2 percent shooting, along with a whopping 7.5 assists per outing. Blazers centers Robin Lopez and Joel Freeland were both active when Gasol registered a near-triple-double against them back in November with 26 points, nine assists and seven rebounds. Seven weeks later, both Lopez and Freeland were out when Gasol hung 15 points, eight rebounds and six assists on Portland, so no matter who Stotts has available in the frontcourt to throw at the Spanish big man, not much has been effective against him in two meetings so far this season.
Randolph is almost equally important in Memphis' production on both ends of the court. When he missed nine games earlier this season, the Grizzlies went just 4-5. For the year, Randolph has attempted half of all his shots directly at the rim and cashed in on 60.1 percent of those. He's essentially maintained those averages against the Blazers this year, and he's drawn more fouls than usual in those matchups.
Conley's also had success against Portland this season, though he did sit out the most recent meeting due to injury. Half his shots come in the paint, and he's great at taking it all the way and finishing, and also has a reliable floater. Conley is a good corner three-point shooter and has hit 40 percent of his overall outside attempts this year. He's not the most prolific distributing point guard, but with Gasol helping to set teammates up, Conley doesn't need to be. That said, he's not a bad passer by any stretch, he just plays a less active role in setting guys up than many other All-Star-caliber point guards.
Guard Courtney Lee and small forward Jeff Green round out Joerger's starting lineup. Lee can get all the way to the hoop and finish, but he prefers to operate more from the midrange and the perimeter, where he's been a good scorer this year. Like Conley, he's money from both corners. Green started out his Grizzlies career 16 games ago shooting fire from all over the court, but he's since calmed down and has since settled into 39.3 percent shooting from the field and 30 percent shooting from outside in Memphis. Still, the Blazers won't soon forget his 17 points against them back in January, as he went 6-of-14 from the floor.
Joerger typically goes with a 10-man rotation, giving heavy minutes to forward Tony Allen, center Kosta Koufos and guards Nick Calathes and Beno Udrih off the bench. Power forward Jon Leuer cleans up the rest. The offensively-limited Allen only takes about a half-dozen shots a game, but they're almost exclusively inside and he's able to score efficiently with the few attempts he takes. Koufos and Calathes don't shoot often in reserve roles, either, and Leuer is a pretty average jumpshooting big man.
Portland's offense had sputtered a bit heading into the All-Star break, and the improvement clearly wasn't there Friday night in Utah. The Blazers will have to keep the ball moving tonight against the Grizzlies and attack from the perimeter, the weakest point in Memphis' defense. Even in limited minutes with a brand new team, Afflalo could be a real difference-maker for coach Stotts off the bench tonight, as he can hit from outside and also create his own shot off the dribble.
Point guard Damian Lillard made seven of his 19 attempts against the Jazz but just three of his nine outside shots. His struggles with his three-pointer have carried through the All-Star break, and it'll be an uphill battle to reverse that trend tonight; In two games against the Grizzlies this season, Lillard has made just 25 percent of his threes and 38.1 percent of his total attempts.
Power forward LaMarcus Aldridge scored 32 points on 11-for-22 shooting about a month ago against Memphis, drawing 10 free throws in the process. Many of his points came inside that night, where he was able to shoot over the much shorter and less athletically gifted Randolph. If Aldridge is facing double-teams like he did against Utah, he'll have to be quicker to kick the ball out to an open teammate or take the shot to prevent the offense from bogging down.
Guard Wesley Matthews and wing Nicolas Batum combined for 21 points and a single three-point field goal on Friday night. A huge part of Stotts' offense is those players taking and making the open shots on the perimeter afforded to them by the defensive attention on Lillard and Aldridge. The Grizzlies shut down the paint for opposing teams, so the wings' shooting will be desperately needed tonight.
If Matthews or Batum are unable to get into a shooting rhythm tonight, Afflalo will likely get a solid chance off the bench to produce some offense. Guards Steve Blake and CJ McCollum, along with centers Chris Kaman and Meyers Leonard, will likely round out Stotts' reserve rotation. Blake had an inactive 20 minutes against the Jazz with four turnovers, Kaman didn't look as refreshed as many Blazers fans hoped and both Leonard and McCollum turned in listless, ineffective performances after playing well heading into the break. Afflalo, who started all 53 of his games in Denver earlier this year and averaged 33 minutes a night, will be accepting a reserve role for the first time in a half-decade. One of the most interesting aspects of tonight's game will be watching how Stotts controls his minutes distribution, and who gets squeezed the most by the infusion of talent this past week into Portland's bench unit.
Defense had been the Blazers' calling card in the weeks leading up to the All-Star break. Assuming Friday's game in Utah was an anomaly, expect a much better defensive performance tonight. Portland has one of the best perimeter defenses in the game, but Memphis would rather go hard in the paint, where the Blazers can give up plenty of points. The Grizzlies have a balanced attack and can come at teams from several different angles. Each individual starter has an important defensive matchup tonight.
Memphis and Portland are very similar rebounding teams, as both are pretty good on the defensive end and about average on the other side of the glass. Randolph is one of the best rebounders in the NBA, especially effective at grabbing rebounds under his own basket with his wide frame and impeccable positioning. The Blazers have several good individual rebounders and generally put in a solid team effort, too, but the Jazz dominated them on the boards Friday night. Aldridge, Lopez, Kaman and Co. will all have to be better tonight to slow Randolph and frontcourt-mate Koufous, who comes off the bench for big rebounding numbers.
The Blazers and their fans all probably would like an opportunity to wash the bad taste of Friday night's loss to the Jazz out of their mouths, but that won't come easy tonight with a rested Grizzlies squad visiting town. Memphis pounded Portland down low in the first meeting between the two teams, then featured five players with 15-20 points each in a balanced attack the next time the teams met several weeks later.
When Lillard, Matthews and Batum are hitting their outside shots, the Blazers have the scoring to complement Aldridge's individual efforts and compete with any team in the NBA. When those threes aren't falling, though, the bottom can come out on Portland's offense. Ball movement should be key for the Blazers tonight, as well as better rotations on the defensive side. Expect a hard-fought battle, but if Randolph, Gasol and/or Conley can be stymied offensively, Portland could pick up its first win of the season in three tries so far against the Grizzlies tonight.
-- Chris Lucia | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter
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