WHEN: 7:00 PM CT
WHERE: FedExForum in Memphis, Tennessee
HOW TO WATCH/LISTEN: Fox Sports Southeast/92.9 FM ESPN Memphis
MEMPHIS: Avery Bradley (Probable, wrist), Ivan Rabb (Questionable, ankle) Kyle Anderson (Out, shoulder), Jaren Jackson Jr. (Out, quad), Dillon Brooks (Out, toe)
PORTLAND: NONE (Must be nice)
PROBABLE STARTING LINEUPS:
MEMPHIS: Mike Conley, Avery Bradley, Justin Holiday, Bruno Caboclo, Jonas Valanciunas
PORTLAND: Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum, Maurice Harkless, Al-Farouq Aminu, Jusuf Nurkic
Even though it becomes less and less likely with every loss, the race to convey has done some good for the Memphis Grizzlies.
There’s no denying that this team is more competitive since the trade deadline. The record may not reflect it - three wins in ten games isn’t exactly setting the world on fire. But aside from the loss immediately following the trade deadline to the Oklahoma City Thunder - you know, the blowout loss in the second half when Memphis was playing without four rotation players, including Marc Gasol, because they had just been shipped out of town - the Grizzlies have only lost by double-digits once, a bad loss before the break to the Bulls in Chicago.
They’ve beaten the shockingly competitive New Orleans Pelicans, the surprisingly awful Los Angeles Lakers, and blew out the potentially-tanking-for-some-reason Dallas Mavericks. They’ve been in the game with potential postseason participants San Antonio, the L.A. Clippers, and most recently the Oklahoma City Thunder. Perhaps most importantly in a lost season, they have been much more fun to watch. The resurgence of Joakim Noah, the great Avery Bradley Grizzlies Twitter debate (is he good, or not good?), the overall energy of vibe of the team...it is all in a much better place than it was in a month ago.
A cloud of expectation has been lifted. In its place is opportunity, and multiple players are taking advantage.
That continues tonight, against another likely playoff squad in Portland. In a western conference where the Warriors are the star everyone revolves around, and the Thunder and Rockets get contender attention because of star power, the Trail Blazers are currently tied for the three seed and are again outperforming a lot of folks’ expectations for them. Damian Lillard is piecing together another All-NBA season, Jusuf Nurkic is having a career season, and players like Jake Layman and the newly acquired Enes Kanter and Rodney Hood are contributing a good bit in reserve roles. This Blazers team is under pressure to not just make the playoffs, but advance from the first round, and at the moment they look like a squad that will likely do just that come April.
So what is the key to tonight’s game?
Limit their second chances
A team as good offensively as the Trail Blazers, with weapons like Lillard and McCollum on the perimeter, usually only needs one shot to score. Yet Portland excels at gathering offensive rebounds - 6th in the NBA in total offensive rebounds gathered at 11.4, 3rd in the NBA in offensive rebound percentage at 25.7% - meaning they’re quite good at getting their wings and other scores second, and even third, opportunities at buckets. This is a strength of the game of Jusuf Nurkic (3.3 offensive boards per game), and Enes Kanter (2.6), and Al-Farouq Aminu (1.5), Zach Collins (1.4), and Mo Harkless (1.2). Even Lillard and McCollum (.9 a piece) get in the mix.
It’s a priority for Portland, and if the Grizzlies hope to knock off a team better than them in the Blazers they need to negate this strength to the best of their abilities. Thankfully Jonas Valanciunas and Joakim Noah are pretty solid rebounders in their own right, but especially if Ivan Rabb sits this one out they are going to need the likes of Bruno Caboclo, as well as perimeter players like Delon Wright and Avery Bradley (who both secured more rebounds than Bruno against the Thunder on Sunday), to step up their efforts to cut off Portland’s access to the offensive glass.
If a team as strong offensively as Portland (4th in the NBA in offensive rating) gets multiple opportunities to score consistently, it’s going to be a long night in Memphis.
Having Mike Conley back in the fold after sitting out in Oklahoma City will be a plus for Memphis. It is always fun to see The Conductor take on Damian Lillard, and even though it’s pretty decided at this stage that Lillard is the superior player (it wasn’t always so clear) Conley almost always gets up for these opportunities to take on players perceived to be better than him, accurately or not. Their showdowns usually end up as a wash as the two great point guards cancel each other out, or one only slightly gets the better of the other, so it will come down to those around the two.
If the Grizzlies were fully healthy, with Jaren and Kyle and Dillon helping strengthen a rotation that wouldn’t need C.J. Miles to log 26 minutes or for Tyler Dorsey to log any minutes? Give me Memphis at home. Given the current state of things, the cast around Lillard is that much better than the one around Conley - especially on the bench - and that will make the difference.
Portland 105, Memphis 100
Stats provided by basketball-reference.com