Following an eight game race for the eighth and final spot in the Western Conference, it comes down to a play-in matchup between the Memphis Grizzlies and Portland Trail Blazers. I chatted with Danny Marang of SB Nation’s Blazer’s Edge for five questions.
1.) Gary Trent Jr., (18.9 ppg and 8.9 before the bubble) has been a guy that has flourished in the seeding games in Orlando, what have you noticed Trent has switched up to be that X-Factor on this Trail Blazers team?
It’s all confidence. Period. There are 4-5 better shooters on this team but every one of the players will tell you his growth comes from the fact that he just believes. Don’t get me wrong - he’s a pure 3 point shooter, but it’s more than that. Let me put this a way that might resonate with Memphis fans... take Dillon Brooks’ undeserved confidence, take it up 3 notches then add in elite shooting ability, and now you have Gary Trent Jr.
2.) Portland took the first match-up inside the bubble in overtime over Memphis. In your opinion, what will it take for Portland to take Saturday’s matchup with the Grizzlies as they participate in the “Play-in”?
Does Memphis have Damian Lillard? No. But they likely have the next generation of him in a different mind with Ja. Based on that alone, it’s tough for Memphis to overcome POR - removing JJJ from the equation makes taking more than a game a tough task.
Portland’s offense is a juggernaut right now and Memphis is one of the only teams they defended well during the seeding games. Experience, offense and confidence will be enough for Portland to secure the 8th seed but Memphis’ time is coming soon.
3.) The Grizzlies and Trail Blazers are the first teams to ever take place in a “Play-In” for that final seed in the Western Conference. Obviously this year was different due to the suspended season, but do you think in season tournaments could be a part of the future in the NBA? With what has happened this year, do you think those discussions advance and have direction following the sequence of events that have taken place?
I’m one of the psychos that would like to see a mid-season tournament, but also a true 1-16 seeded playoff. The league is having all kinds of discussions about how best to tackle things going forward: regional bubbles, play-ins, seeding, tournaments, etc. I’d expect the league to take the feedback from the bubble and look to change things up
4.) The Trail Blazers, due to the suspended season, were able to get Jusuf Nurkic back. He is a huge piece for Portland - how has he impacted this Portland team on both sides of the floor in the bubble?
As much as CJ McCollum gets the billing as best supporting actor, it’s Nurkic that unlocks the Blazer’s offense. Dame is the engine, Nurk is the transmission- optimizing it and banging through gears over 4 quarters. He’s their best 2 way player- able to control the paint on both ends, play make from all levels and operates as something akin to a totem/spirit animal/soul... whatever you prefer, if the team.
His elite screening, size, attitude and aggression all rolled into one allow Dame and CJ to get where they need to on both ends- without him, Portland is just a team with a future Hall of Famer getting highlights.
5.) Lastly, what are your predictions for this weekend? Who is the X-factor in this series from either side?
Nurkic is the guy. If Jonas wants to try and play physically with him, good luck. The more you go at him and focus the bigger and more impactful he becomes. He’s a lot like Lillard in that, if you make it personal he feeds on it. Lillard will get his, but if you let him AND Nurkic get going - just pack it up and start looking at 2021, with the silver lining of JJJ and Winslow returning.