Memphis Grizzlies at Portland Trail Blazers - Game 45 Preview - Welcoming the Faces

Records: Memphis Grizzlies (25-19) vs. Portland Trail Blazers (21-25)

10:00 PM Eastern Standard Time

Rose Garden, Portland, OR

Line: Memphis by 1.5

Opponent Blog: Blazers Edge

Injury Report: MEM: none; POR: Mehmet Okur, Shawne Williams, and Elliot Williams all out for the rest of the season.

After dropping two of the last three since Zach Randolph's return, the Memphis Grizzlies are in need a spark. This wasn't how it was supposed to go. After going 25-19 without Zach Randolph, his return was supposed to help Memphis compete with the top teams in the West, right?

...right?

Time to grind.

Tonight, the Grizzlies are traveling to Portland to play the Trail Blazers for the first time since January 24. On that night, the Grizzlies took a hard 97-84 loss. The defeat was led by LaMarcus Aldridge's 23 points. Since then, though, Memphis is an entirely different team.

After going 23-14 with Randolph sidelined, Memphis has dropped two of three. Keep in mind - the two losses were to the sub-.500 teams of Tortonto and Sacramento, and the only win came in beating Washington. Randolph returned in Tuesday's 119-110 loss to Sacramento. The 2012 debut for the 2010 All-Star was nothing spectacular, finishing with 13 points and seven rebounds.

In the same game, Rudy Gay had 23 points and Marc Gasol added 15 of his own while tacking on 10 rebounds and 8 assists. Although the performances were solid, however, Memphis couldn't end the game with a win. The loss signaled four losses in the last six after winning nine of 10.

Clearly, Memphis is struggling to find the right chemistry since Randolph's return.

Why? Randolph is a presence. He is aggressive down low - an area that Marc Gasol has pretty much had to himself in 2012 and used to claim an All-Star spot for the first time in his career. All of a sudden, with Randolph's return, there are two big down-low threats. No doubt this will take adjustment. Gasol will slowly recognize Randolph's tendencies and strong points. Randolph will learn what it means to allow Gasol to "do his thing" when he's on. Because, after all, when Gasol is on, he's on. When he's off, it's off. Big time.

The trouble on rediscovering chemistry doesn't end there. Tonight, the Grizzlies will welcome a new member onto the court wearing Memphis' three shades of blue.

Enter: Agent Zero.

After being waived by Orlando in December through the new amnesty clause that came with the lockout (still cringe when I hear that word), Gilbert Arenas signed with the Memphis Grizzlies on Tuesday for the remainder of the season. In his nine-year career, Arenas has averaged 21.2 points and 5.4 assists, but has been plagued by injuries.

Last season, Arenas averaged nearly 11 points on close to 40% shooting last season for Washington and Orlando.
Though he wasn't signed expecting to perform at his prime, Memphis is hoping that Gilbert Arenas will be a solid backup performer behind Mike Conley and Tony Allen.

Only time will tell.

Keys to the Game

(1) Exploiting the Blazers' Defense.

Portland has given up at least 111 points in three of their last four. Since the All-Star Break, furthermore, they have allowed an average of 103.8 points in 12 games. In the 15 games before the All-Star Break, they gave up an average of 92.5.

(2) Gasol + Randolph

Hate to revisit the issue, but the point must be emphasized: this relationship has to find it's equilibrium. Although Randolph's return is much-welcomed, his presence interrupts the dominance that is 2011-2012 Marc Gasol. It's a process that will work itself out: it's why the two guys are professionals. But lets just hope it's worked out soon. The upcoming schedule isn't an easy one.

Look at tonight to see a breakout performance of Zach Randolph. He has been waiting months to return, and tonight is his night. Eyes will be on him, and he will thrive in that.

Final Prediction:Portland Trailblazers - 95, Memphis Grizzlies - 102

GameThread will be up and runnin @ 10. See you then.

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