WHERE: Moda Center in Portland, Oregon
WHEN: 9:00 PM CT
HOW TO WATCH/LISTEN: Bally Sports Southeast/ 92.9 FM ESPN Memphis
PORTLAND: Derrick Jones Jr. (Questionable, hip),
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP:
MEMPHIS: Ja Morant, Grayson Allen, Dillon Brooks, Kyle Anderson, Xavier Tillman
PORTLAND: Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, Norman Powell, Robert Covington, Jusuf Nurkic
The Grizzlies continue their franchise long 7-game road trip with a weekend 2-game series against the Portland Trail Blazers. It’s the first time the Grizzlies will face off against the Blazers since their matchup on August 15th in the Play-In game for the 2020 NBA Playoffs.
Visiting Portland hasn’t been too kind to the Grizzlies the last couple of seasons. They were in Portland last season when the NBA season was put on pause, and then a trip to Portland is what sparked a 5-game postponement as the Grizzlies dealt with internal COVID issues. Getting through the night able to play a basketball game would be a step in the right direction.
The Trail Blazers currently hold a 3.5 game lead on the Grizzlies for the 6th seed in the Western Conference, which is the the goal for a team like the Grizzlies to avoid having to play in the Play-In tournament for the playoffs. With Portland within striking distance, the two game weekend series will certainly have some playoff implications.
So what do the Grizzlies need to do to secure some wins in Portland? Let’s take a look.
With the return of Jaren Jackson Jr. on Wednesday night, Taylor Jenkins expanded his rotation from a 10-man lineup to an 11-man lineup, even with Jonas Valanciunas out in the concussion protocol. It was difficult to tell how effective the 11-man lineup would be, as the team played with lackluster energy in the second half. That said, Jenkins will need to figure out the minutes for the Grayson Allen, De’Anthony Melton and Desmond Bane trio as well as the backup point guard battle between Tyus Jones and Justise Winslow. It’s only been one game, but the decisions will only get more difficult once JV returns to the lineup.
It will likely take Jenkins a few games to figure out which lineups and rotations work for this team when fully healthy. In the long-term, Jenkins has the rest of the season to figure things out, so the front office can get the data accumulation they’ve mentioned numerous times this season, but with a playoff push on the horizon, Jenkins will certainly have some tough decisions to make in regards to his rotation. Figuring out the rotation and putting lineups together of guys who mesh well together will go a long way in avoiding the self-inflicting wounds the Grizzlies did to themselves in Wednesday’s loss in LA.
No Time for Dame Time
The Grizzlies saw in Orlando first-hand what Damian Lillard (and Grizz killer CJ McCollum) can do with the game on the line. With guys who can make some incredibly shots late in the game, the Grizzlies need to do their best to establish their pace early and jump out to a lead. It’s understandable for such a young team, but we saw earlier this week in Denver how the Grizzlies can lock up and crack a little under the pressure in close games against teams that have been together for awhile. With all the chemistry on the Trail Blazers squad, the Grizzlies certainly want to avoid a game going down to the wire against such an experience squad.
After the last road trip featured the Grizzlies struggling in the first half of games, the Grizzlies have held the lead after the 1st quarter in every game but the one in Chicago where they were tied after the 1st. The Grizzlies will need to once again come out swinging and take an early lead, but also play a full 48 minutes so they don’t give up the lead in the second half. The Grizzlies need to apply pressure the entire game, but if they can find a way to put the game away early, it could eliminate the opportunity for Lillard or McCollum to rip the hearts out of Grizzlies fans once again.
The Trail Blazers enter tonight’s matchup on a 3-game losing streak and 2-7 in their last 9 games, though Lillard did miss 3 of those games. Despite their recent struggles, the Blazers are still a really tough team to beat when fully healthy like they are. Without JV, Nurkic will be a problem in the post, but the Grizzlies can hopefully make things difficult for Lillard and McCollum by having multiple bodies to throw at them defensively in Dillon Brooks, Justise Winslow, De’Anthony Melton and Kyle Anderson.
The Blazers are a tough matchup for the Grizzlies, but the Grizzlies seem to always respond from any adversity thrown their way so I think they’ll come out ready and prepared to get a little bit of revenge against the Blazers following the play-in loss last season.
Prediction: Grizzlies 115, Trail Blazers 108