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NBA Playoffs 2015 First Round- Game Two Preview: Memphis Grizzlies vs. Portland Trail Blazers

Memphis would be wise to expect the best of the Trail Blazers as they attempt to steal one in Memphis before this first round series moves out west to Portland.

Conley vs. Lillard will continue to be a key match-up in Game Two and beyond.
Conley vs. Lillard will continue to be a key match-up in Game Two and beyond.
Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

6:04 PM CT Update: Both Arron Afflalo (shoulder) and Chris Kaman (ankle) are OUT for tonight's contest. Expect to see a lot more Meyers Leonard and wings like Alonzo Gee and Allen Crabbe get more opportunity.

Game one has come and gone. Lists have been pontificated about, injuries discussed, defensive and offensive sets and execution analyzed. One of the (few) flaws of the playoff schedule that eventually leads to a postseason that is more than a third as long as the regular season is a lot of down time to over-analyze and overreact. The Memphis Grizzlies looked dominant in game one, but that game is gone and is only represented by the 1-0 series lead. It is truly on to the next one, and one can assume that the Portland Trail Blazers will be more than ready to try and even up this series before the scene shifts to Portland for games three and four on Saturday and Monday night respectfully.

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How can Memphis keep a hold on home court advantage and possibly take a stronghold on this series in Portland this weekend? Three keys.

Injuries Remain a Focus

And one in particular.  From the official Portland Trail Blazer PR Twitter account:

Wesley Matthews being out is not a surprise; that Achilles' tear still has several months to go before he can start thinking about playing again. Dorell Wright is likely out for the entire series, as the earliest he is expected to return would be May 1st, or Game 6 in Portland, but that is being extremely optimistic. For a guy who's 38% shooting from three to be on the bench unavailable certainly hurts (although his 37.9% overall shooting percentage is likely more missed by Memphis than Portland).

The key injury for Portland heading in to game two is Afflalo, who is officially listed as "Questionable" to play, or a 50/50 proposition. There is reason for optimism if you're a Portland fan, as this is an upgrade from his "Doubtful" status Sunday night. This tweet from Comcast SportsNet Northwest's Jabari Young adds to those positive Blazer thoughts...

And then, some cause for concern...

Afflalo changes things a good bit for the Trail Blazers. He strengthens their perimeter defense (which was a big issue Sunday night) and provides spacing on the offensive end while allowing for C.J. McCollum to return to a bench role in which he has had a fair amount of success. Considering the Blazer bench was almost outscored by Beno Udrih alone in game one (21-20 Portland advantage), his offensive firepower would be welcome there. Afflalo makes Portland that much more dangerous if he can go. However, since he is listed as "Questionable" and missed last game, he is still out of the lineup according to our preview..for now.

And if he can't go in game two?

Good news for fans of a fair fight and the Trail Blazers.

As far as the Grizzlies are concerned, the story remains the same. Tony Allen (hamstring) and Mike Conley (foot) will continue to fight through their respective injuries. Both appeared to be feeling alright Sunday night, and with two days off between games (again, a benefit of home court and home treatment at the FedEx Forum) should mean at the very least no regression and possibly some improvement. The treatment of both, especially Conley, when they are not in the game bears watching. Mike would have his foot wrapped and treated during his time on the bench, and that will almost certainly continue as management is more likely for Conley than healing with an injury that normally needs 4-6 weeks to fully recover.

Efficient Front Court Scoring

As was discussed in Game One's Full Recap, the combined shooting of Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph, and Jeff Green in Sunday's game was...not ideal: 16-46, 34.7% overall. The inefficient scoring of LaMarcus Aldridge and the overall lack of existence on both ends for Damian Lillard negated that some, and Zach Randolph (6-19 last game) deserves a good bit of credit for Aldridge's 12-34 performance due to his physicality on defense. However, Aldridge and Lillard are two of the top scorers in the NBA. It is unlikely they struggle so mightily tonight.

How do you get there? For Green and Randolph especially, the guiltiest culprits of the poor shooting (Green was 3-11), it involves attacking the paint more. There were too many jab-step jumpers from Z-Bo (having to do with the athleticism/length of Aldridge and others defending him) and pull-up jumpers for Jeff Green out of respect for the rim protection skills of Robin Lopez. Both are at their best in the lane, getting to the rim and utilizing their physicality (Randolph) and athleticism (Green) to score the ball at the tin. Look for pick-and-roll/screen/cutting sets offensively for Green and Z-Bo sets that get him closer to the block and the glass for offensive rebounds.

Countering the Adjustments

It is safe to say that Portland will have some tweaks to the game plan for game two. Our friends over at Blazer's Edge have some suggestions (2-3 zone?) and surely head coach Terry Stotts will find ways to get more efficiency out of his main horses, Aldridge and Lillard. Perhaps the answer is more minutes for Meyers Leonard, whose ability to space the floor from range could present issues for Memphis' bigs and bring guys like Kosta Koufos away from the rim. Maybe Damian Lillard needs to play off the ball more and off of screens to free up room. Anything and everything is on the table for a Trail Blazers team looking for a spark that may or may not come from a returning Afflalo.

Memphis must be prepared to counter whatever adjustments Portland throws their way.

Grizzlies Coach Dave Joerger must be proactive in these situations. The great win Sunday occurred because of a variety of reasons, one of which being the fact that Memphis seemed obscenely prepared; as was discussed on the latest episode of GBBLive, part of game planning for any opponent is figuring out how you would beat your own team. Lack of shooting from range, struggles in transition at times, and bench scoring from guys not named Beno Udrih (if Jeff Green remains the starter at small forward) are all potential pitfalls for the Grizzlies. You must assume Afflalo will play, and you must assume Stotts will find ways to get his stars in more favorable situations and in more space. The counter to the counter punch of the Trail Blazers will be key to picking up a game two victory.

The Prediction

Portland will play better than they did in game one, if for no other reason than they can't play much worse. Aldridge will likely look to get his teammates involved early and often, hoping to get the Trail Blazers as a whole off to a good start (and making his life easier in the process). Nicolas Batum will play a role in this as well; his ability to facilitate offense will allow for Lillard to slash and come of screens, becoming a scorer on the wing. Whether Afflalo plays or not, Portland will come out guns a blazing as a game two win for them means stealing home court from Memphis and makes the game one loss a borderline non-factor.

It will come down to how Memphis' bench/intermixing of starters performs. Vince Carter must perform better than the 1-6 he shot in game one, or else he must be exchanged out for Nick Calathes or Jordan Adams. Jeff Green must be involved, as well as Beno Udrih (who will likely not continue his red-hot shooting but should perform well due to Portland's defensive schemes fitting the strengths of his game, which are mid-range jumpers).

In a much closer affair, Mike Conley, Zach Randolph, and Marc Gasol will outshine a much better performance from Aldridge/Lillard in the fourth quarter and the Grizzlies will head out to Portland with a 2-0 series lead.

Memphis 102, Portland 96

2014/15 Playoffs, Round 1, Game 2

Memphis Leads Series 1-0

2014/15 Regular Season:
55-27 (31-10 Home)
2014/15 Regular Season:
51-31 (19-22 Road)
FedEx Forum, Memphis, TN
Wednesday, April 22nd, 2015
7:00 PM CDT
TNT / Fox SportSouth / 92.9 FM ESPN
Possible Starters
Mike Conley PG Damian Lillard
Courtney Lee SG C.J. McCollum
Jeff Green SF Nicolas Batum
Zach Randolph PF LaMarcus Aldridge
Marc Gasol C Robin Lopez
2014/15 Advanced Stats
94.2 (26th) Pace 96.5 (T-12th)
103.1 (13th) OEff 105.5 (8th)
99.9 (4th) DEff 101.4 (10th)
50.1 (T-12th) RebR 50.7 (10th)
GAME ONE RESULT- Memphis 100, Portland 86

Trail Blazers vs Grizzlies coverage

For the Portland perspective, be sure to check out Blazer's Edge

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