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Portland Trail Blazers vs. Memphis Grizzlies Preview

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The Portland Trail Blazers kick off a five game home stand against Marc Gasol and the Memphis Grizzlies. Will Damian Lillard return tonight?

Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

Portland Trail Blazers (15-21) vs Memphis Grizzlies (18-17)
Monday, January 4
Moda Center | 7:00 p.m. PST | Local TV/Radio: CSN; 620 AM
Portland injury report
:
Damian Lillard (Questionable - Foot) | Memphis injury report: Jordan Adams (Out – Knee), Brandon Wright (Out – Knee)
SBN Affiliate: Grizzly Bear Blues
|
Blazer's Edge Night 2016

After finishing off the Denver Nuggets last night behind solid play from CJ McCollum and Allen Crabbe, the Blazers return to the Moda Center to take on the Memphis Grizzlies.

After ranking third in the NBA last season with a DRtg of 102.2, the Grizzlies defense has fallen to a No. 17 rated 105.4 this year. Unfortunately for them, their offense is still sputtering along at a "grit 'n grind" pace, ranking second to last in the league at 96.2 points per game.

Memphis still makes the effort on defense but, as a veteran team, all of their key pieces seem to have lost a half step over the summer.

Memphis is still led by do-everything center Marc Gasol. Fresh off of a max extension in the offseason, Gasol is putting up 16.5 points, 7.6 rebounds, and 4 assists per game; similar numbers to last year, but down virtually across the board. Even with his slight dip in production, Gasol is a weapon in the high post, able to facilitate, post up, or hit the 15 foot jump shot with ease.

Point guard Mike Conley, the other leader of the Grizzlies’ two-pronged attack, is struggling from the field this season, shooting 41 percent overall after hitting at a 45 percent clip each of the last two seasons. Conley is still putting up 15.2 points and 5.9 assists, but he is hitting from below 38 percent from everywhere on the court outside of three feet, where he connects on 55 percent of his tries, his lowest rate in six seasons. Conley has shown improvement as a ball handler this season, cutting his turnover rate to a career best 1.6 per game.

Zack Randolph, traditionally the third pillar of the Memphis attack, has seen himself shuttled in and out of the starting lineup all season, coming off the bench for 10 games when the opponent calls for a smaller matchup. Randolph’s minutes have dipped below 30 per game for the first time since the 2002-03 season, aside from an injury-plagued 2011-12 season where he played only 28 games. While his overall production has fallen off with the decrease in playing time, Randolph is still putting up similar per minute production, averaging 13.3 points and 8 rebounds per game. Blazer fans know well that Randolph can beat you with a myriad of clever moves around the basket, seldom leaving his feet and preferring to use his body to get position down low.

When Randolph starts, Jeff Green gets the start at small forward. Green is highly athletic and able to be effective from either forward slot, yet has never been consistent enough or played with a high enough motor to fulfill the promise he showed coming into the NBA. Green is able to stretch a defense and occasionally take his man off the dribble, where he can finish with authority when he makes the effort.

Coach Dave Joerger also moves Green to the power forward slot and has the option of playing either Tony Allen or Matt Barnes at small forward. Allen is also capable of sliding in at shooting guard when matchups call for smothering defense against the opposing wings. While one of the premier wing defenders in the league, Allen is an absolute bricklayer on offense, unable to crack 30 percent from anywhere outside of three feet from the rim, save for 10-16 feet, where he attempts five percent of his shots and hits at a 50 percent clip.

Barnes, fresh off a two-game suspension for allegedly getting in a physical altercation with Knicks coach Derek Fisher, will be back tonight and continues to be an inconsistent contributor. Barnes has maintained his slightly positive defensive play that he brought with him from the Los Angeles Clippers, but his jump shooting has fallen off, likely due to the difficulty of shots that he gets in the not-so-free-flowing Grizzlies offense.

Courtney Lee, coming off a nice 17-point game against the Utah Jazz, has struggled from the 3-point line this season, shooting 30 percent after hitting at over 40 percent last season. Lee has had more success inside the arc, but he has almost identical attempts by distance as last season, taking 55 percent of his looks from outside of 16 feet.

Memphis brings Mario Chalmers and Vince Carter off of the bench. Both players average in the teens, minutes-wise, and shoot jumpers with varying degrees of success. Carter, in particular, is struggling greatly from the field this season, shooting below 40%.

There is speculation that tonight will be the night that Portland point guard Damian Lillard makes his return from the plantar fasciitis that has kept him out of the last six contests. Should Lillard return, look for him to play without a minute restriction and to try to make his mark early. Lillard has stated that he doesn’t want to come back until is able to play at his normal level. Historically, Lillard has struggled against the Gasol/Conley pick-and-roll, but a rested Lillard may be able to withstand the physical toll that hard Gasol screens take on their opponent.

Whether Lillard plays or not, CJ McCollum will continue to play heavy minutes. McCollum has been playing very well in Lillard’s absence, drawing attention as a potential NBA Most Improved Player and even a little bit of All-Star chatter.

Blazers forward Meyers Leonard has also stepped up his game as of late, hitting 16 3-pointers over the last five contests.  Blazer fans recall his success pulling Gasol and Randolph out of the paint in last year’s playoff series.

Keys to a Blazer victory

Run

Memphis prefers a slow it down and grind it out game.  With their key pieces getting older, the Grizzlies’ once vaunted defense can’t hang against a young athletic roster that pushes the tempo at every given opportunity.

Limit the supporting cast

Gasol, Conley, and Randolph are going to get theirs. The key to beating the Grizzlies is to not let a Courtney Lee or Mario Chalmers beat you. Limit the secondary offensive options and Memphis will have a tough time generating enough points.

Offensive rebounding

The Grizzlies are a poor defensive rebounding team, ranking No. 25 in the NBA at 31.1 per game. Mason Plumlee, Ed Davis, and Al-Faouq Aminu should be opportunistic in looking for second chance points, especially while Leonard is in the game and pulling one of the Memphis big men out of the paint.

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