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Six Plays to Watch for in Game 1 of the Memphis Grizzlies-Portland Trail Blazers Series

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When the playoffs start, the scouting gets turned up a notch as teams scheme against one another extensively. Here are six plays Portland and Memphis might exploit in an effort to gain an edge.

Craig Mitchelldyer-USA TODAY Sports

A few days ago, LaMarcus Aldridge was asked how to defend the Memphis Grizzlies:

They're actually pretty simple, you gotta just guard ‘em. You know they're a team that plays through the post, through Marc and Z-Bo. They're gonna play through pick and rolls every now and then. They don't shoot many threes. They play midrange and through the post so it's not hard to scheme for ‘em it's just you gotta go execute it.

Translation: They don't do anything fancy, they're just REALLY big and REALLY skilled.

Unlike most teams, the Blazers are probably more worried about the "pick and rolls every now and then" than the "plays through the post". As I wrote about earlier, Mike Conley's health will have a major impact on that ratio in the Grizzlies' offense.

As far as breaking down the plays of the game, we all know that each team is going to feature a lot of post-ups. There are a couple different ways to enter the ball and help players get deep position but, for the most part, we all know what this looks like. This will certainly be the main battlefield of the series but the other plays each team runs will play an important role as well.

Here are six actions to watch for during game 1.

Side Pick and Rolls

As Aldridge said, Memphis doesn't do anything fancy here. Tony Allen sorta sets a half hearted cross screen on LaMarcus but they don't even move their shooters on the weakside. Mike Conley basically just dribbles down, spins, and torches the defense.

Steve Blake is supposed to force Conley away from the screen and towards the sideline. As you can see, Portland has struggled to funnel opposing guards specific directions all year long. That's bad in general but it's particularly damaging on this specific play. If Conley gets to the middle, Aldridge has to pick him up leaving Gasol open with no help defenders on that side of the court. He'll get an easy layup or short jumper every time. Anytime a Grizzly guard dribbles from the sideline, over a screen, and into the middle, Portland will be in trouble.

Pull Up Threes

The Blazers first priority should be to shift the Memphis defense and get in the paint. That's going to be the recipe for success over the long haul. But the Grizzlies are good - like really good - and Portland won't be successful every time. When they're not, this is a shot Damian Lillard should be able to get, especially against anyone not named Conley. If he can really get going, the Grizzlies may start hedging pick and rolls like they did for stretches during the first game between these two teams. This strategy successfully limited Lillard but it's not how they would prefer to play and it pulls Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph farther away from the hoop.

Hard Rolls to the Rim

The pick and pop has become a staple of the Blazers offense but Aldridge will need to mix it up more often against the Grizzlies. If Lillard's shooting draws their bigs further away from the rim it will open up hard rolls to the basket. Memphis does a great job preventing penetration out of the pick and roll so this could be an alternative way to collapse their defense. Once that happens, LaMarcus will be challenged to read the defense and find weakside shooters on the move.

These last two clips are related. If the Blazers hope to win this series, the Lillard-LaMarcus pick and roll needs to be a potent weapon. The Grizzlies did better than most at limiting their effectiveness during the regular season so they will need to work together and look for new ways to attack.

Back Picks

The Grizzlies are excellent at denying passes, sagging into the paint, and disrupting the flow of an opponent's offense. On the whole, this makes the Grizzlies particularly tough to score on but it also leaves them vulnerable to back picks. By positioning defenders in passing lanes and in the paint, the Grizzlies leave some separation between themselves and their men, overplaying the strong side. The Blazers can exploit this by having their shooters drift to the weakside, passing the ball over the top, and hitting the defender with a screen as they try to recover. Wesley Matthews was one of the few players to shoot well against Memphis and this was the main way he did so. Look for C.J. McCollum and Nicolas Batum to make similar cuts.

Transition Points

The Grizzlies aren't known for their transition game but they pick their spots well and burned the Blazers frequently in the first matchup between the teams. Some of these fast breaks came off of live ball turnovers. Those are hard to defend once they happen but Portland can't allow to Memphis to score quickly off of rebounds like in the play above. They typically do a good job getting back but struggle to communicate, pick up assignments quickly, and deny penetration one-on-one. Against a team like Memphis, one that struggles to score and defends so well, allowing too many fast break points could be a back breaker.

Duck Ins

I said I wouldn't talk about post ups but this one deserves an exception. Allowing post ups on the block or just outside of it is one thing. The Blazers have enough capable defenders to make those shots difficult. Allowing post ups in middle of the paint is another. This is called a "duck in" and Z-Bo is one of the best at the maneuver. If he catches his defender sleeping he'll step in and pin them. Portland's bigs can prevent this type of move by being disciplined and physical but they will be challenged to maintain that edge for 48 minutes each night.

The battle will be fought on many fronts tonight but these are a few of the plays that each team will try to exploit. Whoever manages to execute them more effectively won't be as dependent on post ups and will have a leg up in the series.

Let the games begin.