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Portland Trail Blazers vs. Memphis Grizzlies: Changing Lineups

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Should the Blazers change their lineup heading into Game 3?

Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

Here's some light Mailbag reading to tide you over while waiting for Game 3 between the Portland Trail Blazers and Memphis Grizzlies to begin.

Dave,

Any chance we could go really tall with Lopez, Aldridge, Leonard, Batum and Lillard?

Would the offensive gain be worth it?

Thanks,
Damian

For the record, we did some checking. This guy's last name isn't "Lillard". Cuz that would be funny.

I was on the radio in Memphis this morning and they asked essentially the same thing. Meyers Leonard's play has really gained him traction.

I would support switching Nicolas Batum onto Mike Conley at the outset of the game and hiding Damian Lillard on a shooting guard. It's not a perfect solution but it's got to be better than what the Blazers have been trying. I wouldn't be surprised if they cross-matched with Arron Afflalo that way. Basically anybody but Damian should get the call to disrupt Conley at this point.

They'll try Afflalo at shooting guard before they'd go with your big, experimental lineup I'd think. But it's not without merit. You have some shooting, probably more rebounding (maybe not from Leonard himself but from Batum in the lane chasing Conley). And I think it's hilarious--a sign of Leonard's progress--that we're talking about adding him in place of CJ McCollum to get "offensive gain".

Hey, Jeff Green plays small forward for the Grizzlies and he's a tall guy.

The problem of having Leonard chase around a small forward might not be solvable. I'm guessing the Blazers would need to cede the three-point arc to the Grizzlies and keep Meyers shaded towards the lane. It's not a horrible plan. Even as well as Memphis has shot from distance in this series (44%), they don't like to live out there. Protect the lane on any screens thrown your way, rush to help if somebody else's man gets in the paint, rebound. I've heard worse ideas.

Continuity is another issue. I'm guessing that lineup hasn't played much together. The Blazers are already suffering from rhythm issues. Adding a switch in position for Batum and a different guy at small forward might be too much.

On the other hand, Batum could stay in his small forward role on offense while Leonard assumed the shooting guard's weak-side marksman, occasional post-up role. Meyers shoots mostly from the left side of the floor or straight away while Matthews gets a lot of shots on the right side, but it might work.

This whole idea goes in the "I can't believe we're talking about this but maybe they should try it" category. For the Blazers coaching staff Game 3 of this series is like Game 7 for a World Series manager. You empty the bullpen, use starters as relievers, do anything you have to in order to get the win. It's not good to be in a desperate situation but once you're in one, you might as well admit it and try everything you can to get out of it. There's no pride in walking away from a 0-4 or 1-4 series loss anyway. Bring on Meyers!

Dave,

I'm hearing lots of criticism of Dame's play. Some of the narratives about this are... out there, suggesting he's not making an effort, or that his national visibility has gone to his head. When has he ever shown anything less than discipline and dedication to his craft? And yet there has to be some explanation for (most notably) his lack of shooting success. What happened?

Lisa

We covered this a little bit yesterday but let's reaffirm.

"Not making an effort' is a ridiculous explanation for Lillard's performance in this series. He's driving the lane, not settling for jumpers. If anything he's overreacting on defense. (Just as much of a problem as under-reacting, but still....) He's laying it out there. The problem is, the Grizzlies are scooping it back up and throwing it right back in his face.

National visibility going to his head? Maybe, but we'll not know that for a long time yet. I suggested over a year ago that Lillard would be one of the rare players able to determine his own career arc. He'll become fabulously wealthy as an offensive player without having to lift a finger on defense. If he's satisfied with that, he need do no more. But if he also wants titles he'll need to up his defensive game and continue learning his craft.

At 23, I'm not sure even Damian knows which one of those roads he'll end up taking. Every human being on the planet would pay lip service to the second, maybe even vowing it to themselves. But seriously, when you're making tens of millions for doing what you already do and there's no end in sight to that money, motivation is hard to find. I'm farther along life's journey than Lillard is and I imagine I'd have a hard time gathering it with those kind of paychecks rolling in. When the entire world is telling you that you're already amazing, summoning the will to get better can be hard.

But none of that is playing out in this series particularly. Damian isn't struggling because he got a shoe deal. He's struggling because nobody's hitting shots on the wing to free up the lane or his shot. He's struggling because half the team's veterans are in street clothes.

When presented with an obvious factor like injuries, we tend to accept, then forget them. We knew from the start that Wesley Matthews would be out for the series. We knew that Arron Afflalo would miss games, Dorell Wright too. When Chris Kaman went down it just seemed like more of the same.

Knowing these things ahead of time we say to ourselves, "Well, the Blazers have to play the series anyway and we have to analyze it without sounding obvious and repetitive, so let's accept injuries as a given and start looking at other factors." We stuff the injury explanation in a safety-deposit box in our minds, then we never pull it out again. When the team suffers we tend to ignore the "givens" we dismissed early on. We attribute the lack of success to other things. Every interview or comment on the team begins with, "We know the Blazers are injured, but..."  All the energy and credence goes into the "but". That's human nature. It doesn't make it accurate, though.

Nobody wanted to go into this series saying, "Injuries are going to rob the Blazers of their chance to win." Down 0-2 with neither game close, standing a single defeat away from having to concede, it looks like the factor we hoped to avoid is going to be decisive. It'd be better to admit that than to stick our fingers in our ears and start blaming other causes that don't hold as much water. (*cough* shoe deals *cough*)

I'll disagree with you in one way, though. "When has Damian ever shown anything less than discipline or dedication to his craft?" Despite rumblings about improvement at the beginning of the year, his defense isn't getting better fast enough. This is the part of his craft that needs the most work. I'm not sure whether intent, ability, or fatigue is the culprit, but he's still a liability on that end of the floor. Insofar as intent plays a role, we need to see more from him.

Thanks for the Mailbag questions! We'll answer more in the coming week! You can always e-mail them to blazersub@gmail.com or phone them in to our Podcast Voice Mail Line at 234-738-3394.