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Portland Trail Blazers at Memphis Grizzlies Preview

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The Portland Trail Blazers and Memphis Grizzlies have both been playing their best basketball of the season recently. Who will continue and come out ahead tonight in Memphis?

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Portland Trail Blazers (25-27) vs Memphis Grizzlies (30-21)
Monday, February 8
FedEx Forum | 5:00 p.m. PST | Local TV/Radio: CSN; 620 AM
Portland injury report
: Allen Crabbe (Illness - Probable), Mason Plumlee (Face - Probable), Noah Vonleh (Ankle- Questionable)
Memphis injury report: Marc Gasol (Knee - Probable), Brandan Wright (Knee - Out), Jordan Adams (Knee - Out)
SBN Affiliate: Grizzly Bear Blues
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Blazer's Edge Night 2016

The Portland Trail Blazers conclude their two-game Southwest Division road trip tonight against the Memphis Grizzlies.

The Blazers are currently in the middle of their hottest stretch of the season, having won 10 of their last 13 games. They are coming off an impressive 96-79 rout of the Houston Rockets on Saturday. In that game, the Blazers had six players in double figures. Damian Lillard notched his third consecutive double-double, a career-high, with 21 points and 10 assists.

The Grizzlies have also been playing their best basketball of the season, winning nine of their last 11. However, the Dallas Mavericks did snap Memphis' five-game winning streak on Saturday 114-110 in overtime. Marc Gasol had 22 points and Zach Randolph finished with 20 points and 10 rebounds against the Mavs.

Despite their strong play in recent weeks, the loss to the Mavericks was especially damaging. Dallas is directly behind the Grizzlies in the standings, and a Memphis win on Saturday would have been a step forward in establishing the Grizzlies as the clearly superior team in the home stretch of the season. Instead, the Mavericks won and the door remains open for Dallas to move into the coveted fifth seed and avoid the Spurs, Warriors, and Thunder in round one.

This will be the fourth and final meeting between the Grizzlies and Blazers this season. Portland has lost two of the three previous games. Memphis won the most recent contest on Jan. 4 in Portland 91-78. In that game, the Grizzlies pummeled the Blazers with their expected low post scoring and strong defense, grinding out a prototypical win. Memphis dominated the offensive glass, picking up 10 more offensive rebounds than the Blazers, while Portland also committed 21 turnovers. The results were significantly more scoring opportunities for the Grizzlies, and a relatively easy win. Damian Lillard made his return after a seven game absence and looked rusty.

Outside of games against the Blazers, the Grizzlies have not been their usual dominant selves this season. They currently sit at 30-21 and have spent the season in the second tier of the Western Conference, behind powerhouses Golden State, San Antonio, Oklahoma City, and the Los Angeles Clippers. Coach Dave Joerger has experimented with the lineup, briefly sending Randolph to the bench.

However, as mentioned above, the Grizzlies have been playing their best ball of the season in recent weeks. Surprisingly, they are averaging 106 points a game since Jan. 21 after starting the season with an average of 97.5. For a team that has used defense as its calling card for the last half-decade, averaging 106 points a game qualifies as an explosion. The Grizzlies' improved offense has correlated with Mike Conley's recovery from an Achilles injury that forced him to miss six games in early to mid-January. Conley has only averaged 9.4 points over the last seven games, but he has also had at least seven assists in each of those games. In many ways, Conley's impact transcends his meager scoring output; he plays a key role in initiating the Grizzlies' offense.

Jeff Green has also played a major role in Memphis' offensive surge. Green spent the early part of the season playing some of the worst ball of his career and Joerger made the decision to pull Green from the starting lineup on Jan. 14. Since then, Green has thrived and led the Grizzlies in scoring with 19 points per game. As a backup, Green has enjoyed a usage of over 27 percent and has shot 51 percent over the last 11 games. He's teamed with Matt Barnes off the bench, creating a lineup of long, fast, and dynamic forwards that cause matchup problems for opposing reserves.

Green's emergence as a sixth man could not have come at a better time for the Grizzlies. Aaron Mah of Hoops Habit explains:

As many started to question whether Memphis should "tear it down" and homogenize themselves in alignment with rest of the 3-point crazed league, Green-as-the-sixth-man experiment has delayed such a full-out, drastic change by enabling Joerger to stay rugged, while giving the team the option of versatility.

Beyond Green and Conley, the Grizzlies still rely on their bruising big man combination of Randolph and Gasol. Both players are starting to show their age, but remain very effective. Gasol is a highly skilled center who can burn opposing defenses out of the high post with both elite passing and midrange shooting. However, he has been playing through injury recently, and has not been effective as usual.

Randolph is still the bruising low post scorer Blazers fans remember. He has a fascinating "old man" game, somehow consistently picking up double-doubles despite rarely jumping more than six inches off the ground.

Tony Allen and Courtney Lee round out the Grizzlies' starting lineup. They are an elite defensive duo and Allen, especially, makes life difficult for opposing wings. The Grizzlies play Mario Chalmers at backup point guard after trading noted Blazer-killer Beno Udrih earlier this season.

Keys to the Game

Win the bench battle: Over the last two seasons, Memphis has possibly been the worst matchup in the league for Portland. The Grizzlies have beaten the Blazers in 10 of 12 games, including a dominant first-round victory last season. But, the teams have not played since the Grizzlies switched Green to the bench and diversified their offense. In all likelihood, the Grizzlies' starting five will continue to outplay the Blazers' starters. Even accounting for Gasol's injury, Portland does not have the big men to match up with the Memphis starters. The switch to a more dynamic and faster style of play off the bench, however, is more in line with Portland's strengths. The Blazers will need their bench players, especially Allen Crabbe, to outplay their counterparts so as to offset the starting lineup disadvantage.

Rebound: The Grizzlies are in the bottom 10 in the league for both offensive and defensive rebounding percentage, while the Blazers are in the top 10 in both categories. Rebounding is one of the few interior advantages Portland has tonight but, as mentioned above, in the previous matchup between these teams Memphis created extra possessions via rebounding and turnovers. If the Blazers hope to win tonight they need to assert themselves on the boards. Ed Davis, Mason Plumlee, and Noah Vonleh (if he plays) will need to be especially active rebounders.

Meyers Leonard: Leonard's spacing on offense has the potential to cause Memphis fits when they go with their big man lineup. (Random thought: A smallball lineup with Leonard at center and Al-Farouq Aminu at power forward could be interesting tonight.) Leonard is also one of the only players on the roster who has the size to matchup with Gasol. If "Good Meyers" shows up tonight it will give the Blazers a big boost.

Bottom line

This is not the same Memphis team that Portland beat by 20 at the beginning of the season. Their strengths may be eroding, but they seem to be successfully adapting in recent weeks. Additionally, Portland has struggled on the road against good opponents and have beat only one .500 or better team away from the Moda Center this season. A win tonight seems unlikely, unless the Blazers can match up exceedingly well against the Grizzlies' new bench unit.

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