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Portland Trail Blazers vs. Memphis Grizzlies Play-In Game No. 1 Preview

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The Blazers accomplished their goals during the seeding games; now they just need one more win for the playoffs.

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NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Portland Trail Blazers Pool Photo-USA TODAY Sports

Portland Trail Blazers (35-39) vs. Memphis Grizzlies (34-39)

Saturday, August 15 - 11:30 a.m. PT
Blazers injuries: Rodney Hood (out), Trevor Ariza (opted out), Caleb Swanigan (opted out), Nassir Little (out)
Grizzlies injuries: Tyus Jones (out), Justise Winslow (out), Jaren Jackson Jr. (out)
How to watch on TV: ABC (or check out Fubo for your streaming needs)
Radio: 620 AM
SBN Affiliate: Grizzly Bear Blues

After an intense stretch of games the Portland Trail Blazers were able squeak by the Memphis Grizzlies to earn the 8-seed and the all important advantage in the 2-game play-in series. A win on Saturday would give Portland the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. A loss would mean the two teams face off again on Sunday in a winner-take-all matchup for the right to take on the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round.

The Grizzlies entered Orlando with a 3.5 game lead over the Blazers, but won only two of their eight seeding games. Portland, meanwhile, went 6-2 at Disney World, including a 140-135 overtime victory against Memphis to kick things off. The Grizzlies will be without Jaren Jackson Jr. who scored 33 points against Portland in that game. Memphis is coming off a 119-106 must-win victory over the Milwaukee Bucks. Ja Morant (12 points, 13 rebounds, 10 assists) and Jonas Valanciunas (26 points, 19 rebounds, 12 assists) both had triple-doubles in the game. Former Oregon Duck Dillon Brooks scored 31 points.

What to watch for

  • Damian Lillard. Not enough can be said about what Portland’s All-Star guard has done the past eight games. Lillard is averaging 37.6 points and 9.6 assists per game in Orlando while shooting 43.6 percent on 12.6 three-point attempts per game. That percentage is especially impressive considering how often he shoots contested or deep three-pointers. Lillard’s will to win has been especially evident in Portland’s final three games. After missing two free throws against the LA Clippers last Saturday, he scored 51, 61, and 42 to close out the seeding games. The Blazers needed every single one of those points to win three close games, and they’ll need a good performance again from Lillard on Saturday.
  • Three-point shooting. Portland has shot the ball very well from beyond the arc in the bubble (41.4 percent), while Memphis has been below average (31.7 percent). The Grizzlies will miss Jackson Jr.’s ability to stretch the floor (he went 6-of-15 from three against the Blazers). Grayson Allen (48 percent) and Anthony Tolliver (41.7 percent) are the only Grizzlies shooting better than 35 percent in the bubble. The Blazers have four players — Gary Trent Jr. (50.7 percent), Carmelo Anthony (46.9 percent), Damian Lillard (43.6 percent), and CJ McCollum (37 percent) — hitting consistently from deep.
  • Effort and energy. The Blazers have had to play with tremendous effort throughout all the bubble games, but especially in the past three matchups. Across the board, players were diving for loose balls and consistently putting in extra effort to make hustle plays. Can Portland continue to play with the level of energy they had in the past week? At some point playing hard-fought, close games could take a toll on Blazer players. Lillard and McCollum are first and second in minutes played in Orlando (41.7 and 40.9 per game, respectively); Ja Morant is third with 37.8. Saturday’s game will be the first game in a week that isn’t a must-win for Portland. Will that cause Portland to ease up a bit or can they keep up the same level of effort and energy to avoid an elimination game?

What they’re saying

JLew23 of Grizzly Bear Blues wrote about Grayson Allen’s bench scoring:

In the bubble, Grayson was a 50-40-90 player, converting on 50% of his field goals overall, 40% of his threes, and 90% of his free throws (in only 10 attempts - again, small sample size). That is an unrealistic pace to expect a third year bench player to maintain over the course of an entire season. But Allen’s opportunities to shoot open 3’s will be effected by his ability to score off the dribble. If he was not a threat to drive or create for his teammates (if he was one-dimensional), teams could gameplan to take him away. A triple-threat skill set allows him to be a vital piece for a team growing into their contending window.

ESPN’s Zach Lowe noted that Ja Morant is not finding success against switches:

Big men back away, inviting Morant to hoist jumpers or dribble right into them. Morant does not want those 3s; he often steps in for long contested 2s. He’s athletic enough to rev up and finish through some big men, but that is tough sledding against good defenders.

The Grizzlies have scored a putrid 0.799 points per possession when Morant shoots against a switch, or passes to a teammate who fires right away — 114th among 129 ball handlers who have faced at least 50 switches this season, per Second Spectrum. Opponents in the bubble are switching against Morant on about 10 screens per 100 possessions, up from 6.2 before.

Drew Hill of the Daily Memphian reported on how former Blazer Anthony Tolliver’s veteran leadership has helped the Grizzlies’ young players:

“I’m still learning to this day,” Morant said. “I actually was talking to Anthony Tolliver one night by the pool — he has a lot of years under his belt — and some of the stuff he tells me I don’t even understand. But he finally had the time to explain it.

Morant wants to keep private the exact context of that conversation, but he did offer this:

“That’s my vet. ... Whatever knowledge I can take from (experienced players), I accept it and do whatever I can with it.”