WHEN: 9:00 PM CT
WHERE: Moda Center in Portland, Oregon
HOW TO WATCH/LISTEN: Fox Sports Southeast/NBA League Pass/92.9 FM ESPN Memphis
MEMPHIS: Jonas Valanciunas (Out, health and safety protocol), Jaren Jackson Jr. (Out, knee), Jontay Porter (Out, knee), Justise Winslow (Out, hip)
PORTLAND: Jusuf Nurkic (Out, wrist), CJ McCollum (Out, foot),
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUPS:
MEMPHIS: Ja Morant, Dillon Brooks, Kyle Anderson, Brandon Clarke, Xavier Tillman Sr.
PORTLAND: Damian Lillard, Rodney Hood, Derrick Jones Jr., Robert Covington, Enes Kanter
With a thrilling win over the Phoenix Suns on MLK Day, the Grizzlies have now won five games in a row and currently sit tied for 7th in the Western Conference. But in order to maintain that position, they will have to beat teams who are in similar position. And that includes the Portland Trail Blazers, who are dealing with injury issues of their own with both Jusuf Nurkic and CJ McCollum missing significant time.
This will be a two-game home stand for the Blazers against the Grizzlies, and while it’s difficult to beat any team in the NBA back-to-back, there are several reasons why the Grizzlies can do it.
Ja Morant will feast
In the two games Ja Morant has played since coming back from injury, he hasn’t totally looked like himself while still being extremely impactful. The explosiveness isn’t quite there just yet, and he’s still obviously trying to get his wind back. It also didn’t really help matters much that he had to deal with Ben Simmons, Jevon Carter, Chris Paul, and Mikal Bridges as his primary defenders during those two games.
But I fully expect Ja Morant to be extraordinary over his next two games against the Blazers. He’s due to explode as a scorer like he did on the opening night, and it will only help that his primary defenders will be some combination of Damian Lillard and Derrick Jones Jr. And you can only imagine the bloodbath that will occur if/when Enes Kanter gets switched onto him.
All that being said, Portland ranks 27th in defensive efficiency and just doesn’t have the personnel to match up with Morant. So prepare for the fireworks.
Damian Lillard may very well get his numbers, but the Blazers offense should struggle against a tenacious Grizzlies defense that currently ranks 3rd in the Association.
Much like they have in recent years, the Blazers are heavily reliant on their star-studded backcourt to generate their offense. But without CJ McCollum, the Blazers simply aren’t built for success playing that style of basketball. They rank 28th in assists per game and 29th in assist ratio, as the ball often seems to stick during their offensive sets.
There’s a certain predictability to the Blazers’ admittedly explosive offense in general, and the Grizzlies should be able to take advantage of that against a short-handed Blazers team.
Under the circumstances, home court is not what it used to be.
I expect the game to be relatively close throughout, but the Grizzlies will benefit from a late surge to come away with a double-digit win. Dillon Brooks will finally to start to regain his rhythm as a shooter, and Ja Morant will post a 30 points, 10 assists stat line.