WHERE: Moda Center in Portland, Oregon
WHEN: 9:00 PM CT
HOW TO WATCH: NBATV
HOW TO LISTEN: 92.9 FM ESPN Memphis
Portland- Damian Lillard (Foot)- QUESTIONABLE
Memphis- Jordan Adams, Brandan Wright (Knee)- OUT.
11:15 AM UPDATE- Mike Conley (Back) is questionable for tonight's contest. The game itself is questionable due to an ice storm in the Portland area. First reported by Ron Tillery of the Memphis Commercial Appeal.
For the Portland perspective, check out Blazer's Edge
Well, Grizzlies' fans, there is good news and there is bad news.
The good news for the Memphis Grizzlies, who were out of sorts offensively and lacking depth this past Saturday night in Utah against the Jazz, is that Matt Barnes is back tonight from his two-game suspension. He figures to return to the starting lineup, and resume his role as Memphis' best wing so far this season and arguably their fourth best player behind Marc Gasol, Mike Conley and Zach Randolph...perhaps even their third best player, depending on the night.
The bad news? Matt Barnes is Memphis' best wing, he was missed terribly and may well be Memphis' third best player so far this season. This fact alone may well be enough to explain the Grizzlies' current state of affairs; struggling to stay above .500 for the season, lucky that the Western Conference is not as dominant this season as it has been in the past. Players are under-performing, coaches are over-compensating, and a cloud hovers over the team with regard to the future.
Perhaps there shouldn't be- the team, record aside, is where most thought they would be seeding wise out west, hanging around the six seed and four games ahead of being out of the playoff picture. Given the fact that so many are performing so poorly, and roles have been diminished to players possibly attractive to other teams, trades may be more difficult than ever to execute for anything close to equal value. Maybe, then, it stands to reason that the Grizzlies should stand pat, hope that players begin to rise to their career averages, and make one last run.
Multiple players are on expiring contracts, and it is likely that this roster will look quite different eight months from now anyway as Memphis surely (hopefully?) has a plan for roster restoration through cap space and the draft. At this stage, it may make more sense to stay as they are, enjoy the lesser Western Conference, get a higher pick with the same seed (as Matt Hrdlicka pointed out last week in our ReplyAll chat) and see if the "Believe Memphis" magic has one last trick up its sleeve.
Of course, for anyone to "Believe Memphis" can make such a run they must have consistent success. Tonight would be a good place to start, against a Portland Trail Blazer team who is on the second night of a back to back after playing in Denver against the Nuggets Sunday evening. The Trail Blazers have been without their start Damian Lillard the past seven games, and Portland is 2-8 so far this season on zero days rest, 1-2 at home in such games. That is the good news...
The bad news? That one win was against Memphis, a 115-96 embarrassment of a contest that showed a lot of the same holes in the Grizzlies that are still prevalent. Poor defensive communication, issues scoring the ball for long stretches, same in January as it was in November. With the bad taste of the Utah game still in their collective mouths, Memphis must be better as a whole if they hope to defeat a Portland team who has a better expected win-loss record according to ESPN than them (16-19 compared to 13-22, as of this writing).
Getting on the right side of this four-game series will not be easy. How can the Grizzlies get the job done? Three keys-
Barnes and Memphis Must Clean the Glass
One of Portland's major drop-offs in their back-to-back games is on the glass which makes sense- rebounding, much like many aspects of defense, is as much about effort as anything. Tired legs and weary bodies make for lesser board grabbing for the Trail Blazers it would seem, and the Grizzlies must take advantage. While the Grizzlies are not the best rebounding team in the league (rebound rate of 48.6, 23rd in the NBA, while Portland is 5th at 51.9%) getting second opportunities on the offensive glass, and limiting Portland's on defense, should be a focus.
The return of Matt Barnes should help in this area. Since the switch in the starting lineup on December 13th, Matt Barnes is 2nd on the team in rebounds at 6.8 a game and has grabbed five or more rebounds six times. He is capable, and hopefully well rested after his two game "break". Fresh legs may mean a double-digit night of rebounding for "The Bad Guy."
Marc and Mike Must Maul
In Memphis' first encounter with the Trail Blazers this season in Portland, that tough loss, Marc Gasol and Mike Conley did not perform very well. 6-21 shooting overall, with Conley only attempting eight shots total, while leading the Grizzlies in a bad category; they had the two worst +/- numbers on the squad (Gasol at -21, Conley at -19.) It is not a secret that Memphis is a better team when its two best players are playing to their capabilities, but the inconsistencies of the Grizzlies go hand in hand with the rise and fall of Conley and Gasol.
It isn't a hot take, or the most in-depth of analysis. It is just the truth. Marc and Mike must be two of the three best players on the floor if Lillard plays, and if he doesn't they must be the two best for Memphis to perform at their peak.
Get Back to Your Roots
The previous games against Portland for Memphis so far this season had one major difference- the Trail Blazers and their performance from three. In the first contest? 15 made threes on 30 attempts in their first game in Portland, 7 from Lillard alone, and Portland's shot chart from that contest was quite impressive...if you are a fan of the Trail Blazers. They took 87 shots and made 44 of them, good for over 50%. That is dominant offense.
Not a single area of below average shooting from three, and no area of poor shooting where they attempted four or more shots. A recipe for a loss.
In Portland's loss to Memphis this season at the FedExForum? A much worse shooting performance from three (8 for 22, 36.4%) and nowhere near as many attempts. Portland only took 69 shots in this game, making only 33 of them. Their shot chart from that contest is nowhere near as frightening, either.
The major issue of defense at the rim remains, but 18 fewer attempts is huge, even with Portland attempting nine more free throws in Memphis than they did in Portland.
So, what does this mean the Grizzlies have to do? They have to...
- Defend their asses off.
- Play with effort.
- Slow the pace.
- Protect their own possessions while taking away those of the Trail Blazers through creating turnovers.
Sound familiar? It should- it's Grizzlies basketball from 2011-May 2015. All of the above can still be executed with a smaller lineup, and against a younger, more athletic Portland team the Grizzlies must rely on their experience and fortitude if they hope to take a win out of the Rose City.
This game is a toss-up. Would anyone be surprised if Memphis got blown out? Disappointed, sure, but surprise should be out the window at this point. After the win against the Miami Heat last week, who destroyed the Washington Wizards Sunday night, would it really be surprising if Memphis pulled off an impressive win? No, it wouldn't. That is the definition of inconsistent; night in, and night out, you have no idea which version of this team you will get.
"The Bad Guy" Matt Barnes will likely player even harder than normal in his first game back from suspension. That energy, and a nice performance from Zach Randolph (8-12 shooting last time these teams met in Portland, 15 points in their most recent game in Memphis) alongside Mike Conley and Marc Gasol will give Memphis a much needed win on the road.