On Grizzly Bear Blues, I’m going to scout the enemy and look into the teams chasing the Memphis Grizzlies for the 8th and final playoffs spot.
A 2019 Western Conference Finalist, the Portland Trail Blazers are in a weird spot in this bubble race. They have Damian Lillard, arguably the best player among the six teams fighting for the 8th seed. He has CJ McCollum, a strong sidekick that can create offense for himself and others. In addition, they’re getting back Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins, two huge pieces for their frontcourt.
So why the pessimism?
The Blazers have razor-thin perimeter depth. Behind Dame and McCollum are Anfernee Simons and Gary Trent Jr., two raw, young guards that are hit-or-miss. With Trevor Ariza opting out for the bubble, their wing depth is...
- Carmelo Anthony
- Mario Hezonja
- Nassir Little.
That inspires little confidence.
Can the young Memphis Grizzlies hold off Damian Lillard and the Portland Trail Blazers?
Where the Blazers Have the Advantage
The most important thing here is Damian Lillard. As previously mentioned, he’s the best player in this race, and he has shown that he can go super-nova to carry this team.
The biggest advantage the Blazers have over the Grizzlies is their playoff experience together. Last year, Portland was in the Western Conference Finals, and they’ll have two players that played huge roles there (Nurkic and Collins) back in the fold. That veteran experience and continuity will be pivotal in the bubble.
With Nurkic and Collins back, they also have more options to deploy down low. If Whiteside is looking lazy instead of being the guy that played into a max deal, they have two starter-caliber centers that can shore up minutes at the 5 and slow down Jaren Jackson Jr. and Jonas Valanciunas.
The big question for Portland in the bubble is, will Nurkic and Collins be ready for big minutes after this lost season for them?
Where the Grizzlies Have the Advantage
Ok let’s start here:
Granted, Clarke won’t be tasked with having to beat Caleb Swanigan off the pick-and-roll. However, how will Nurkic look in his first game after breaking his leg 18 months ago? Can foul-prone Zach Collins, or a potentially lazy Hassan Whiteside, handle him?
Where this will start is the point of attack on the perimeter. Lillard and McCollum aren’t great defenders, and Portland’s depleted wing core don’t provide optimism there as well. The Grizzlies must utilize the pick-and-roll, and even consider playing through Dillon Brooks, Justise Winslow, and De’Anthony Melton at times, to carve up Portland’s defense.
If the Grizzlies can expose Portland’s defensive limitations while slowing down Lillard (which they’ve proven to do), Memphis should have little trouble taking care of the Blazers and holding them off for the 8th seed.
It’s very unclear how Portland could look like during the bubble. They could resemble the 2019 Western Conference finalist, or the team that’s struggled to breakthrough in the West this year.
Regardless, in the first game of the bubble for Memphis the Ja Morant and Damian Lillard matchup will be electrifying. Both point guards weren’t highly-touted prospects, came from small schools, and immediately became big-time players in the NBA. The resemblance is uncanny.
For the Grizzlies, this game is the biggest one on their schedule, as it could dictate how the rest of the bubble shapes out.