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Memphis Grizzlies vs. Portland Trail Blazers Game Preview

Can the Memphis Grizzlies get back on track to close out the West Coast road trip?

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Portland Trail Blazers v Memphis Grizzlies Photo by Justin Ford/Getty Images

WHO: Memphis Grizzlies (4-3, 2-3 road) vs. Portland Trail Blazers (5-1, 3-1 home)

WHEN: 9:00 PM CT

WHERE: Moda Center; Portland, OR

HOW TO WATCH/LISTEN: Bally Sports Southeast/92.9 FM ESPN Memphis


MEMPHIS: Desmond Bane (Questionable, Ankle Soreness), Jake LaRavia (Questionable, Left Shoulder Soreness, Steven Adams (Questionable, Jaw soreness), Ziaire Williams (Out, Patellar Tendinitis) Jaren Jackson Jr. (Out, Right Foot Surgery Recovery), Danny Green (Out, Left Knee Surgery Recovery)

PORTLAND: Damian Lillard (Out, calf), Josh Hart (Questionable, concussion protocol), Gary Payton II (Out, abdominal), Trendon Watford (Out, hip flexor), Oliver Sarr (Out, wrist)


MEMPHIS: Ja Morant, Desmond Bane, Dillon Brooks, Santi Aldama, Steven Adams

PORTLAND: Anfernee Simons, Shaedon Sharpe, Josh Hart, Jerami Grant, Jusuf Nurkic

Portland Trail Blazers v Memphis Grizzlies Photo by Justin Ford/Getty Images

The Memphis Grizzlies are wrapping up a 4-game West Coast road trip, looking to avoid a 1-3 road trip. They’ve been plagued with injuries — including going into Utah with only 1 of Ja Morant and Desmond Bane for each game. Otherwise, their defensive intensity and focus have been lacking, leading to a flurry of 3’s.

The Portland Trail Blazers are on the other side, breaking out as a surprise team thus far — 5-1, good for 1st in the Western Conference. Their sustainability will be something to monitor over the next few months. In the here and now though, Damian Lillard and the revamped Blazers are showing they shouldn’t be counted out of the Western Conference playoff mix.

In tonight’s game, the Blazers will be without their superstar point guard, but they have depth that shouldn’t be taken lightly.

What are keys for the Grizzlies to ensure a victory tonight?

Defend the 3

Damian Lillard’s absence stings the risk for the Grizzlies in this department, but the Blazers shouldn’t be taken lightly from deep. That in large part is due to the emergence of Anfernee Simons over the past calendar year. The 22-year-old guard has been solidifying himself as one of the association’s best shooters, from both quality and quantity standpoints. To start the season, he’s connecting on 37.3 percent of his 3’s — while ranking 4th in attempts (9.8) and 10th in makes per game (3.7).

Last game, Simons drilled 7 of his 15 three-point attempts in Dame’s absence — and he also torched Memphis in their last showdown, scoring 31 points on 5 of 10 shooting from deep.

The Memphis Grizzlies have struggled in this department, as they’re 27th in opponent 3-point makes per game (14.4) and 28th in 3-point attempts per game (38.4). In their last game against the Utah Jazz, they gave up 19 three-pointers, and their defense looked all out of sorts. Their rotations were incredibly loose, leading to a lot of scrambling out on shooters. The absences of key rotation players — Desmond Bane, Ziaire Williams, and Jaren Jackson Jr. — are fair to account for, but the principles haven’t been executed properly.

If the Grizzlies want to get back to their winning ways, it boils down to cleaning up the defense. Otherwise, there’s a young, emerging 3-point supernova ready to fire.

Memphis Grizzlies v Sacramento Kings Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images

Frontcourt Uncertainty

There are two layers of uncertainty for the Grizzlies’ frontcourt in this game.

For starters, who’s going to play? Jaren Jackson Jr. is already out of the game. Steven Adams is questionable with a jaw injury. Jake LaRavia is coming back from an illness.

It’s getting paper thin. What does that leave us with? Santi Aldama will receive the bulk of the workload. Brandon Clarke (who also left Monday’s game with injury), will Xavier Tillman and David Roddy will be key components off the bench.

Then comes the second layer — the production.

The frontcourt has left little to be desired on this road trip. Santi Aldama doesn’t look nearly as confident as he did in the New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets games. David Roddy can’t find his offense, and his defense isn’t making up for it. Xavier Tillman minutes often lead to runs.

Regardless of who’s available, these players will be pivotal tonight, and there’s a path for them to make an impact tonight.

For Aldama, it boils down to offensive confidence and his aggression. He’s shown he could crash the glass to contribute in the rebounding department, and that’s going to be important against a rebound magnet like Jusuf Nurkic. He also needs to confidently let it fly from deep — only 6 three-point attempts this road trip — to open up the floor more for his guards.

For Roddy, his shot isn’t there, but can he identify his spots to get rolling — as a cutter, as a transition runner? He showed flashes in the first Utah outing (4-5 from the field, 2-3 from 3), so his offensive production could be big for tonight’s game.

For Tillman, it’s more about the intangibles in this one. Nurkic is one of the most physical big men in this league, and Tillman will need to match his physicality to prevent him from getting going on the glass.

With a solid frontcourt of Nurkic and Jerami Grant on the other side, it’s imperative to effectively contain them. Hopefully the Grizzlies aren’t too thin and aren’t adding more names to its injury report.

The Grizzlies are coming off a brutal loss against Utah, and surely there will be a shift in energy and intensity in this game. In addition, they want to end the road trip on a high note.

Let’s predict some optimism and a happy flight.

Prediction: Grizzlies - 125, Trail Blazers - 119

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