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Game Preview: Memphis Grizzlies vs. Portland Trail Blazers

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Hopefully the Grizzlies didn't overload on holiday cheer last night. After a hard fought victory over the Lakers, Memphis rolls into Portland to take on the Trailblazers. Given the depth of the Western Conference, every game matters against the West's elite.

Marc Gasol leads Memphis into Portland to take on Robin Lopez and the Trail Blazers.
Marc Gasol leads Memphis into Portland to take on Robin Lopez and the Trail Blazers.
Craig Mitchelldyer-USA TODAY Sports
2014/15 NBA Season
vs
2014/15:
13-2 (5-2 road)
2014/15:
12-3 (8-1 home)
November 28th, 2014
Moda Center, Portland, Oregon
9:00 PM CDT
Fox SportSouth/ 92.9 FM ESPN 
Possible Starters
Mike Conley PG Damian Lillard
Courtney Lee SG Wesley Matthews
Tony Allen SF Nicolas Batum
Zach Randolph PF LaMarcus Aldridge
Marc Gasol C Robin Lopez
2014/15 Advanced Stats
94.3 (23rd) Pace 96.2 (10th)
105.9 (10th) OEff 108.2 (3rd)
98.1 (4th) DEff 99.5 (6th)
51.0 (T-5th) RebR 52.9 (3rd)

Injury Report-

Portland- C.J McCollum- Out (Finger)  Memphis- NONE

For the Trail Blazers' perspective, check out Blazer's Edge.

15 games into the season for the Memphis Grizzlies, and the West is already looking like the Hunger Games.

Follow @sbngrizzlies

There are 8 teams in the Association with double digit wins so far this season; 7 of them reside in the West. Only Toronto at 13-2 represents the East among the elite of the NBA, at least in terms of early season records. The West, meanwhile, is rapidly approaching Top Gun "Danger Zone" levels.

West Standings 11-28-14

Where are Goose and Maverick when you need them?

For comparison's sake, the current 9 seed in the West (the Sacramento Kings) would be the 3 or 4 seed in the East. While it is a source of pride to see the Grizzlies at the top of such a distinguished list, it means that the road to the NBA playoffs will be as perilous as ever. That road will surely go through Portland, at least on this night, as Memphis heads in to the Moda Center to take on the hottest team in the NBA right now, the Trail Blazers, who are riding a 9 game winning streak.

How can the Grizzlies cool off Portland and hand them their first loss since November 8th, which came at the hands of the Los Angeles Clippers? Three keys.

Contain Wesley Matthews and Nicolas Batum

Yes, LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard are the more popular names, and yes they both are capable of inflicting damage to the Grizzlies. But they are talented individuals, arguably 2 of the most talented guys in the NBA, and are going to impact the game regardless. When Portland is especially dangerous is when a third player is connecting from range, affecting rotations and help defenses on Lillard and Aldridge.

Both Matthews (39% career 3-point shooter) and Batum (37% career 3-point shooter) are capable of making the Grizzlies pay from beyond the arc, and Matthews especially has killed Memphis (and Tony Allen in particular) in the past. Defenses naturally focus on Portland's 1-2 punch of Aldridge and Lillard, but the 3rd strike from Batum or Matthews can be a haymaker if Memphis sleeps on their capabilities.

Create Chaos on Defense

With an offense as crisp in ball movement and set shots as Portland, tonight would be a great night for Tony Allen and the like to really turn up the crazy on defense. The slightest adjustment in timing can lead to deflected passes, feet not being set on shots, or even turnovers. The Trail Blazers are 4th in the NBA in 3-point shot attempts per game (25.7) and 3rd in percentage made per game (39%), tied with the Golden State Warriors. Disrupting offensive flow would directly affect those numbers, especially the percentage converted, in an advantageous way for Memphis.

Bench Building Leads

The Grizzlies' starters and Portland's starters will likely go punch for punch and rarely will extend leads past 2 possessions. Both starting 5s are balanced, and especially in Portland, this game will likely be tight. When the bench unit for the Grizzlies checks into the game, they must be able to build upon or gain leads against the Portland 2nd teamers. Steve Blake (22.1 minutes per game) and Chris Kaman (19 minutes per game) lead the bench charge for Portland alongside Will Barton, Allen Crabbe, and Joel Freeland. While Kaman especially has started the season well, their depth can be attacked by the Grizzlies, especially if starters are integrated in with bench unit pieces.

Blake and Kaman cannot lead a bench that outperforms the Grizzlies if Memphis hopes to win this game. Beno Udrih, Kosta Koufos, Jon Leuer, Quincy Pondexter, Nick Calathes, and Vince Carter must have a big collective performance.

The Prediction

This is going to be a tough one. Memphis cannot afford to start slow, as they did against the Lakers Wednesday night, if they hope to get out of Portland 2-0 on this road trip. Look for a BIG Marc Gasol game, for Tony Allen to bounce back, and for the bench to build leads for Memphis on their way to a hard fought win, #14 on the season.

Memphis 104, Portland 101