You've already read Evans Clinchy's excellent article covering 5 crucial questions that will determine the outcome of the Portland Trail Blazers-Memphis Grizzlies series. Here are 5 more keys to keep your brain warm between now and tip-off.
What Will the Blazers Do with Marc Gasol?
As detailed in our statistical recap of the regular season, Marc Gasol didn't kill the Blazers this season. His averages versus Portland were comparable to his norm. Unfortunately that's still a problem for the Blazers because...
1. His norm is pretty good. And...
2. The defensive attention the Blazers had to devote to keeping Gasol "normal" allowed Memphis to slaughter Portland from the perimeter. By "slaughter", we mean "every Memphis perimeter player shooting over 50% from the field and even higher from the three-point arc". The Blazers turned Memphis' entire shooting corps into a Flock of Stephen Currys. That says less about opponent shooting prowess and more about the utter lack of coverage at the edges of the court...a cardinal sin in Portland's defensive bible.
The Blazers don't have a satisfactory defensive matchup for Gasol. Robin Lopez loses effectiveness when chasing those foul line, top-of-key jumpers that Marc likes to hit. Besides, the Blazers need Lopez to stay home in case Mike Conley gets by Damian Lillard's defense (another chronic issue). LaMarcus Aldridge can cover Gasol's jumper but he doesn't like to play center or get bodied around. Plus Lopez on Randolph isn't appealing either. Portland could go small, but what happens to their rebounding?
Other than keeping Conley out of the lane (which leads to Gasol getting open, which leads to other perimeter players getting open) this conundrum may be the dividing line between victory and defeat for the Trail Blazers. Solve it and the door's wide open. Otherwise be prepared for plenty of "ouch".
Has LaMarcus Aldridge Got Another Billion-Dollar Performance In Him?
Everybody remembers Damian Lillard's shot heard around the universe that ended Portland's first-round series versus the Houston Rockets last year. People forget that LaMarcus Aldridge poured in 46 and 43 points in the first 2 games of that series, then 30 more in the final game, to set up Lillard's heroics.
Aldridge was one of the few Blazers unfazed by the Grizzlies this year. His teammates need someone to distract a defense that kept them bottled up all season. Unless Lillard is defended by a limping Conley (or a healthy Beno Udrih) Aldridge is the prime--if not the only--candidate for the job. A 40+ point performance in Game 1 or 2 would go a long way towards shaking up this series.
Where the Heck is Nicolas Batum?
30% drop in scoring, 20% drop in field goal accuracy, 30% drop in three-point accuracy, 25% drop in rebounding, 50% drop in assists.. So reads the decline of Nicolas Batum against the Grizzlies this year. Meanwhile Memphis small forwards and guards prospered. The Blazers cannot afford to see these trends repeat in the playoffs. A return to an average Batum, holding his counterparts to a correspondingly average performance, amounts to a game-changing improvement for the Blazers.
Who is Jeff Green?
Is Jeff Green the serviceable utility small forward shooting 43% for 13 points and 4 rebounds per game for the Grizzlies? Or is Jeff Green the 51% shooting, 58% from distance, 17 point and 6 rebound monster that the Blazers made him into this year?
Like Gasol, Green is a matchup problem for Portland...too big for small forwards, too proficient with the jumper for big men. But the Blazers might want to assign somebody special to him: Aldridge, Alonzo Gee...somebody who's going to take something away from him. If Green is scoring every which way possible, Portland can't match him.
P.S. Nicolas Batum should be that "somebody" stopping Green, but see above.
Is the Road Fatal?
The Blazers failed to earn homecourt advantage for this series. They lost 4 straight to the Grizzlies during the regular season. Conventional wisdom says they'll come home Saturday down 0-2, stretching the losing streak vs. Memphis to 6 games. Would anyone, including the Blazers themselves, believe in their ability to win 4 out of the next 5 under those circumstances?
Portland has to turn this series to their advantage quickly. Facing the favored Rockets last season, the Blazers bopped them straight in the nose with 2 road victories to open the series. The shark's even bigger this time. Portland may not need 2 wins in the first 2 games, but getting one is pretty much a necessity.
Game time is almost here! Make sure to join the conversation in our Game Day open thread and stay tuned for complete coverage and analysis after.