WHO: Memphis Grizzlies (15-11) vs Portland Trail Blazers (15-12)
WHERE: FedexForum in Memphis, TN
WHEN: 7:00 PM CT
HOW TO WATCH/LISTEN: Fox Sports Southeast/92.9 FM ESPN
MEMPHIS: Mike Conley (QUESTIONABLE-left hamstring soreness), Dillon Brooks (out-knee), Jevon Carter (out-right knee soreness), Chandler Parsons (out-needs knees)
PROBABLE STARTING LINEUPS:
Memphis Grizzlies: Mike Conley, Garrett Temple, Kyle Anderson, Jaren Jackson Jr., Marc Gasol
Portland Trail Blazers: Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum, Moe Harkless, Al-Farouq Aminu, Jusuf Nurkic
Do not let anyone, whether it be the Vegas oddsmakers or the insufferably positive fans that you know, tell you any different: The Grizzlies’ loss to the shorthanded Nuggets team that started Torrey Craig and Mason Plumlee was a bad loss. There’s no other way that you can spin it.
However, the beautiful thing about the NBA is that the next game is usually only a night or two away. And the Grizzlies will have their chance to get back on track against the Portland Trailblazers tonight on their home court.
The Grizzlies and Blazers both find themselves in a bit of a similar situation at the moment. After hot starts to the season, both teams have cooled off and have only won three of their last nine games. They were also both at the top of the Western Conference earlier in the season, and now they are both starting to find themselves near the outskirts of the playoff picture.
So it goes without saying that this is an important game for both teams that has playoff implications. And both could use this game as a springboard to return to a high level of play.
Considering that the Blazers will be entering the second night of a back-to-back after a close loss to the Rockets, the Grizzlies should have the advantage. But unless you’ve lived under a rock for the past near-decade, the Grizzlies do not have a great track record with games that they should win.
Here are a few more things to watch for tonight
Conley v Lillard
Although his team has struggled a bit as of late, Damian Lillard is as prolific as ever, averaging 27.2 points and 6.5 assists per game. He has looked every bit of the fringe MVP candidate and all-star grievance letter-writer that he is so far this year.
For various reasons, Mike Conley will never consistently put up the gaudy stat lines of Lillard, but he is certainly just as important to his team’s success. And he is unquestionably the reason why the Grizzlies once again look like a formidable opponent.
There have been plenty of memorable battles between these two all-star caliber guards, and there will certainly be more to come. And for the most part, the guard that plays better usually leads his team to a victory.
Even though he’s questionable after tweaking his hamstring against the Nuggets, I do expect Conley to play. He has always relished the matchup against Lillard, and I expect tonight to be no different (for better or for worse as far as his health is concerned). Especially since the Grizzlies’ other cornerstone is nowhere near 100%.
Which leads me to...
Marc Gasol’s Health
On November 27th, Marc Gasol sprained his ankle in the closing minutes against the Toronto Raptors. Since then, he has not even looked close to the player he was for the first month of the season.
Over his last five games, he is averaging 9.4 points, 5.2 rebounds, and is shooting just 31% from the field. He is very obviously playing hurt and has looked extremely passive and disengaged often during that time.
Marc Gasol is a warrior, and he always has been. Unfortunately, that has likely done him more harm than good over the course of his career as far as his health is concerned. The Grizzlies would be wise to hold him out for at least this game.
However, since he isn’t listed in the injury report, he seems to be playing. It will be interesting to see how he looks tonight. If he continues to play like he has recently, the Grizzlies should highly consider sitting him for a few games.
I will pay J.B. Bickerstaff to play Jaren Jackson Jr. 30+ minutes tonight
Let me qualify what I’m about to say by clarifying one thing: I really like J.B. Bickerstaff. I really do. I think he’s an excellent defensive mind, and he has the respect of the players on the team. Those are two very important things to be a successful coach in the NBA.
With that being said, I am going to tear my hair out to the point where I’ll look like Bickerstaff if Jackson doesn’t play at least 30 minutes tonight (foul trouble notwithstanding).
Look, I get it. You think that JaMychal Green is the reliable, veteran-savvy role player that wont’t make mistakes. Jaren Jackson represents more of a wild card. I get it. But your caution starts to negatively impact the team when you elect to play Green, a slightly undersized power forward, against a Nuggets team in crunch time that was playing two traditional big men in Plumlee and Nikola Jokic. The taller, bigger Jackson would have been a much a better fit on both ends of the floor.
However, tonight is a chance to get Jackson back in rythym.
Jackson’s jump shot is streaky at the moment, but he consistently excels in the paint. Unless Terry Stotts decides to do something drastic, Al-Farouq Aminu, who is 2-3 inches shorter than Jackson and roughly 25 pounds lighter, will be defending him. So, the plan of action is simple here.
Take the leash off.
This is a chance for Jackson to have another huge night, and the Grizzlies should try to get him involved as much as possible.
I don’t have a good feeling about this one. I just don’t. Whenever I make game predictions, I usually go by my gut, and my gut just doesn’t feel right about this one. The Grizzlies should win this game, but should never means will. I believe that Conley and Gasol will both have a slow night, mainly due to injury. As a result, the Grizzlies will lose a close game on their home court, casting further doubt on the rest of the season because we’re not allowed to have nice things.
Grizzlies -97, Blazers-101