As the Portland Trail Blazers' 2014-15 regular season came to a close, players and fans were less concerned with the games the Blazers played and more concerned about the games of their Western Conference opponents. Locked in to the 4th seed in the Western Conference with no guarantee of home court advantage, the Blazers approached the postseason in cruise control. They nursed their injuries, rested key players, and gave less than their best effort en route to a 3-6 finish to the regular season campaign.
The final day of the NBA regular season action left Portland staring at three possible playoff foes. Game 82 would decide whether the Blazers faced the defending champion San Antonio Spurs, last year's first-round victim Houston Rockets, or a team the Blazers hadn't beaten all year: the Memphis Grizzlies. Choosing between the best franchise of their generation, a revenge-seeking MVP candidate, and a team that induced regular night terrors, Portland had no easy outs.
After all of the probabilities and infographics and 3-way tiebreakers had been put to rest, the Blazers ended up facing the Memphis Grizzlies. Though the Blazers had gone 0-4 against Memphis during the regular season, the Grizzlies had backed into the postseason as well, winning just 5 of their last 11 games. This provided some measure of hope.
Like Portland, the Grizzlies were dealing with their fair share of injuries. Star center Marc Gasol, starting point guard Mike Conley, and key reserve Tony Allen spent the end of Memphis' regular campaign in fancy suits. The status of all three was up in the air in as the series commenced.
Extenuating circumstances made the Blazers' matchup with the Grizzlies the "lesser of many evils" in the eyes of many. I thought the Blazers had a real shot at winning one of the first two games on the road, forcing Memphis to win one in Portland just to keep home court advantage.
As Game 1 neared, Blazers fans filled with uneasy optimism. Was the coaching staff hiding a few tricks up their sleeves? Could the players conjure some of their early-season magic? Would Memphis turn out to be as disadvantaged as the injured Blazers felt? Across Blazers Nation we crossed our fingers, hoping that LaMarcus Aldridge, Damian Lillard, and Nicolas Batum returning to full playoff mode would wash away the sins of the regular season in a cleansing stream of glory-bound momentum.