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Memphis Grizzlies vs. Portland Trailblazers Preview: Which team stays hot?

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The Grizzlies meet the Blazers tonight in a clash of a team that's been hot for the first 45 games vs. a team that's been hot for the last 12. Will the Grizzlies' recent defensive improvements be enough to shut down the league's #1 offense?

Z-Bo and LaMarcus Aldridge face off again.
Z-Bo and LaMarcus Aldridge face off again.
USA TODAY Sports Images
2013/2014 NBA Season
22-20 (10-7 road)
Won 2
33-12 (18-4 home)
Lost 1
January 20th, 2014
Moda Center in Portland, OR
9:00 PM CDT
Fox SportsSouth/ 92.9 FM ESPN
Possible Starters
Mike Conley PG Damian Lillard
Courtney Lee SG Wesley Matthews
Tayshaun Prince SF Nicolas Batum
Zach Randolph PF LaMarcus Aldridge
Marc Gasol C Robin Lopez
2013/14 Advanced Stats
92.4 (30th) Pace 97.9 (T-8th)
102.5 (19th) OEff 110.0 (1st)
103.5 (16th) DEff 105.5 (T-22nd)
Injury Report

Portland - none

Memphis- Quincy Pondexter (Out, Foot) Tony Allen (Out, Hand)

Opponent's Blog: Blazer's Edge

Key Matchups

Zach Randolph vs. LaMarcus Aldridge Zach Randolph moved into a first-place tie with Pau Gasol his last game with his 189th double-double as a Grizzly. You know he'd like to take over first place by himself tonight against his old team, the Blazers. He should have every opportunity - the challenge will be limiting the Blazers' star power forward, LaMarcus Adridge. LMA is yet another All-Star caliber big the Grizzlies will be facing (24.3 PPG, 11.5 RPG) and his height (6'11") and versatile skill set make him a tough defensive task. Last season, Aldridge struggled some against the Grizzlies' defense, putting up below-season-average numbers and shooting just 36%. He's also coming off a 10 point, 2-14 night against Golden State. If Zach can put up his usual double-double while the Grizzlies D slows LMA a bit, it boosts the Grizzlies chance of winning.

Mike Conley vs. Damian Lillard After an excellent rookie season, Damian Lillard is once again putting up strong numbers (20.7 PPG, 5.7 APG) and has improved his outside shooting, hitting on 42% of his 3's this year. Conley is having an All-Star-type year as we all know, so this matchup should be an interesting one to watch. It seems like every game the Griz are facing a good big man and a good point guard, and this game is no exception.

Offensive juggernaut vs. determined defense The Grizzlies defense that has been so good over the past few weeks will be tested by the league's most efficient offense. Interestingly, the players who are the respective bellwethers for Portland are not their two best players (Lillard and Aldridge) but rather three shooters - Nicolas Batum, Wesley Matthews and Mo Williams. They each shoot approximately 10% lower from the field and 15% lower from 3 in losses. If the Grizzlies can hold the shooters in check, it will be a big step in the right direction.

Playing with a purpose

After struggling and starting the season 13-17, the Grizzlies have won 9 of their last 12 to move to 22-20 and 1.5 games out of a playoff spot. The Griz know as well as the rest of the us that they have to win a lot of games, and they're playing with a sense of urgency that shows it. A big reason for that is the return of the type of shutdown defense we've grown used to seeing the past few years. Check out our own Chris Faulkner's piece on the Grizzlies' improved defense since Marc Gasol's return here. Similarly, an interesting stat from local 92.9 ESPN personality Jon Roser shows the Griz' recent ascent in efficiency:

A balanced attack

The Blazers feature a starting lineup with productive PERs at every position: Lillard (19.1), Matthews (17.6), Batum (16.1), Aldridge (23.3) and Lopez (16.9). They also feature 4 solid bench players in Mo Williams, Thomas Robinson, C.J. McCollum, and Joel Freeland. The Grizzlies starters and bench each will need to bring their A games tonight.

3 more for the road

The Grizzlies start a 3-game road stretch tonight against Portland (33-12), Sacramento (15-28 but loaded with scorers), and Minnesota (just 1.5 games back at 21-22). If the Grizzlies can go 2-1 or better on this road trip, that's a solid showing. A sweep would be a boost to the fanbase and the team's playoff chances.

Still struggling

Mike Miller continues to struggle off the bench, shooting 26% from 3 in the month of January. He has found other ways to contribute at times, but is limited as a defender so his shooting ability is really where his value lies. Miller has already, in 42 games, played more minutes than in any regular season since 2009-10. One can only hope that this is just a temporary slump and not fatigue setting in from all the minutes. There's still a long way to go in the season.

Joe's neat-o fact-o-the-day

The Blazers have the league's 5th best home record at 18-4, and the 4 losses have been to Houston, Dallas, Miami, and Philadelphia. All but the 76ers are currently playoff teams.

The Bottom Line

The Blazers currently sit in 3rd place in the tough Western Conference - about where many of us hoped the Grizzlies would be - and are very good at home. The Blazers had one of the easiest strength-of-schedule ratings through the first half of the season and the Grizzlies would like nothing more than to keep their roll going by giving Portland a rude awakening to the tougher part of their schedule. It's going to take a strong defensive effort like the ones the Grizzlies have been turning in of late to pull out this game, but would be a real boon to the road trip if they can.

P.S. If you haven't already, you owe it to yourself to check out some of the excellent video analysis that's been posted around GBB the past few days.