Portland Trail Blazers (3-3) at Memphis Grizzlies (3-3)
Nov. 6, 2016 | 12:30 PST
Watch: CSN NW | NBA League Pass
Listen: Rip City Radio 620 AM
Blazers injuries: Festus Ezeli (out)
Grizzlies injuries: Mike Conley (questionable), Chandler Parsons (probable), Brandan Wright (out)
SBN Affiliate: Grizzly Bear Blues
After riding Damian Lillard’s 42-point performance to a victory over the Dallas Mavericks on Friday, the Trail Blazers look to put together their first winning streak of the young season in a matinee game against the Memphis Grizzlies.
After a solid start with no lingering injury issues from last season, Memphis point guard Mike Conely is questionable with soreness in the same Achilles that cut his season short last year. He’s putting up productive numbers in the early going, averaging 21.8 points and 6.6 assists, so losing him would be a big blow to the Grizzlies.
On the positive side for Memphis, prized free-agent acquisition Chandler Parsons is expected to make his season debut against the Blazers after signing a four-year, $94-million deal over the summer. Chandler is coming back from knee surgery, but is a highly effective wing player when healthy, averaging 14 points, five rebounds, and three assists with 38 percent 3-point shooting over his career.
Skilled center Marc Gasol seems to have fully recovered from the broken foot he suffered last season, putting up 17.4 points and nearly eight rebounds, along with more than three assists per game. Interestingly, though he is only shooting 34 percent from the field in the early going, Gasol is hitting 3-pointers at a 36 percent clip and has already taken 22 attempts on the season, eclipsing his previous career high of 17.
From here the starting lineup gets iffy for the Grizzlies. Tony Allen starts at shooting guard and, while he has been an elite defender most of his career, he’s lost little bit of the athleticism that makes him so effective and is still a horrendous outside shooter. Former D-League star JaMychal Green starts at power forward for Memphis, where he is more comfortable working from the perimeter than playing a traditional post game.
Of course, the Grizzlies can always get production down low from 14-year veteran Zach Randolph. Having moved to a bench role this season, Randolph still has had success getting easy baskets in the paint. Since he was never very athletic to begin with, Randolph’s game has transitioned well into old age and, though his defensive rebounding slipped last season, he is gobbling up 6.7 defensive boards per game and 8.2 overall - not bad for only 21 minutes per night.
There were positive signs for the Blazers in their win over Dallas; Lillard continues to be able to take over games at will, Mason Plumlee looked good from the field, and Al-Farouq Aminu shot 3-of-8 from the 3-point line after struggling horribly through the team’s first five games. The major concern continues to be the bench, where Portland only saw 14 points of production out of its reserves in 80 minutes of game action, three of them courtesy of a Shabbaz Napier midcourt heave at the end of the first quarter.
This is not sustainable over the long haul if Portland hopes to be competitive. The Blazers will be relying on one or more of Allen Crabbe, Evan Turner, Noah Vonleh, and Meyers Leonard to provide some punch against Memphis. Leonard has traditionally played Gasol well on the defensive end, but with Gasol now taking more than four 3-pointers per game, it may not be feasible to have Meyers guard him on the perimeter, where he struggles to defend.
Barring one of the reserves stepping up, Portland may once again turn to Lillard and CJ McCollum. With Conley possibly out of action tonight, rookie Wade Baldwin IV may see big minutes. Though he defends well for a rookie and features an impressive wingspan, young guards often struggle against elite guards in the NBA. Memphis could counter by putting Tony Allen on Lillard, but that leaves McCollum free to work on Baldwin.
After coughing up a winnable game in Phoenix, Portland has a chance to finish with a winning road trip and move over .500. Memphis will be looking to earn a winning record themselves after a tough loss to the Clippers on Friday night. With an aging core, the Grizzlies aren’t quite the team that they were two seasons ago, but should not be taken lightly. If Conley isn’t able to go, however, it will be an uphill battle.