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Portland Trail Blazers vs. Memphis Grizzlies Preview

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The Blazers look to get win number 50 with five games left in the season.

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NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at Memphis Grizzlies Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

Portland Trail Blazers (49-28) vs. Memphis Grizzlies (31-46)

Wednesday, April 3 - 7:00 p.m. PT
Blazers injuries: CJ McCollum (out), Jusuf Nurkic (out)
Grizzlies injuries: Jonas Valanciunas (out), Jaren Jackson (out), Kyle Anderson (out), Dillon Brooks (out), CJ Miles (out), Joakim Noah (questionable), Avery Bradley (out), Mike Conley (doubtful)
How to watch on TV: NBCSNW, NBA League Pass (outside of Portland)
How to stream: YouTube Live TV, Playstation Vue, Hulu Live TV, FuboTV, NBA League Pass (outside of Portland)
Radio: 620 AM
SBN Affiliate: Grizzly Bear Blues

The Portland Trail Blazers return to the Moda Center after going 3-1 on a four-game road trip. They trail the Houston Rockets by .5 games for the third seed in the Western Conference playoff race (Portland has the tie-breaker). With only five games left in the season—two of them against the Denver Nuggets—each game is important for playoff seeding.

The Grizzlies are in a tricky spot in how they are setting themselves up for the draft. They owe the Boston Celtics their first-round pick in this year’s draft as part of their 2015 trade for Jeff Green. However, that pick is top-eight protected, and if Memphis keeps it, then they owe the Celtics a top-six protected pick in next year’s draft.

General Manager Chris Wallace said after the trade deadline that he would like to convey the pick to Boston this season rather than deferring it. Currently the Grizzlies are one of four teams with 46 losses, meaning they will finish with somewhere between the sixth and ninth worst record. If they are still hoping to convey this year’s pick to the Celtics, then they will be trying to win their final five games. If not, then they have plenty of incentive to tank.

What to watch for

  • Who is playing center for Memphis? Grizzlies center Jonas Valanciunas suffered a grade II ankle sprain during their last game and is out for the season. Backup Joakim Noah may also miss his fifth straight game due to knee soreness. That leaves them pretty depleted at the center position. Ivan Rabb is expected to start. Rabb is averaging 13.1 minutes in 44 games this season. Yuta Watanabe and Bruno Caboclo—both listed at only 6’9”—are also expected to get some minutes at center. Enes Kanter, who is averaging 16.8 points and 10 rebounds as a starter, should have an opportunity to feast on an inexperienced and undersized frontcourt.
  • Lillard dishing. Wednesday will be Portland’s ninth game in a row without CJ McCollum in the lineup. Since McCollum went down Damian Lillard has taken on even more responsibility for running the offense. Without another primary scorer of McCollum’s caliber, Lillard has done more of the facilitating. He has 12 or more assists in four of the eight games without McCollum and has averaged 9.6 assists per game in that stretch. With Portland’s recent injuries several different players have stepped up their scoring—Rodney Hood, Seth Curry and Enes Kanter especially. Lillard’s playmaking as well as his threat as a scorer has helped make that happen.
  • A rebounding advantage. There was some concern that Portland’s rebounding would drop a bit after they lost Jusuf Nurkic for the season. The Blazers are currently second in the NBA in total rebounds (48 per game), third in offensive rebounds (11.7 per game), and second in rebounding percentage (52.5 percent). In the four games without Nurkic Portland is averaging 52.4 boards per game, including 13 offensive rebounds, and pulling down 55.2 percent of the rebounding opportunities. Memphis has been toward the bottom of the league in rebounding this season and will be without their best rebounder in Valanciunas.

What they’re saying

Christian Dudley of Beale St. Bears looked at how Mike Conley has handled being the last remaining piece of the Grizzlies’ Core Four:

Mike Conley has been forced into the leadership role. However, it is something that he has welcomed with open arms as he assists in preparing the Memphis Grizzlies franchise for their next era.

Though this season will not transition into a playoff berth for the Grizzlies, it has been an opportunity for Mike Conley to expand his game and be more selfish, but in a good way.

Writing for Grizzly Bear Blues cgriff50 discussed Chandler Parsons’ recent performance against the Clippers:

Parsons was one of only three Grizzlies to score in double figures. He has had more than a few good performances for Memphis since returning from his extended absence. He takes smart shots and is careful with the ball, only recording more than two turnovers once in the 16 games since his return to the team. While he might be grossly overpaid to be one, he has become a solid, if unspectacular role player for Memphis, and that may be the best we can hope for.