Who: Memphis Grizzlies at Portland Trailblazers
When: 9:00 PM CST
Where: Rose Garden, Portland, Oregon
Records: Memphis (50-24), Portland (33-41)
Media: Sportsouth, 92.9 FM, 680 AM
Forums: 3 Shades of Blue, Grizzlies Message Board
Memphis has overcome injuries, roster moves and a brutal schedule to regain a share of 3rd place in the Western Conference playoff race. Led by Mike Conley, Jerryd Bayless, Marc Gasol and All-Star Zach Randolph, the Grizzlies have regained their confidence after wins at Minnesota and at home against San Antonio and Houston. The schedule doesn’t get any easier however as the Grizzlies head west for the their last multi-game road trip of the season. First off is at Portland, Z-Bo’s original team, where Memphis has been having recent success after struggling for years in the Rose Garden. Memphis has already tied their franchise high for wins in a season and set a franchise mark for road wins but should be hungry for more as the chance to secure home court advantage in the 1st round of the playoffs is still attainable.
Portland is in a free fall after knocking on the door of the playoffs for most of the season. The Blazers have lost 5 games in a row and 7 of their last 9 including twice to the Jazz who currently sit in 8th place in the conference. At 8 games below .500 and are all but eliminated from the playoff hunt, the Blazers appear to be accepting their fate and shutting down their more experienced players in favor of giving their young bench some extra minutes. Damian Lillard is the odds on favorite to win the rookie of the year award but the Blazers are also high on Myers Leonard and Victor Claver for the future.
Expected Starting Lineups:
Mike Conley vs Damian Lillard
Mike Conley has been rising up the ranks of PGs in the league. His performance against San Antonio was particularly exciting for Memphis fans as he led the team in scoring including hit not one but two huge shots in the final 30 seconds to pull out the victory. Lillard has been setting records with his scoring all season and has been given the green light all season and he responded by setting a rookie three-point shooting record with 167 makes. Lately Lillard has been cooling off hitting just 41.8% of his FG attempts but he still is averaging 18.6 PPG and 6.5 APG. They are both solid PGs with Conley’s superior defense offset somewhat by Lillard playing at home. Tough call and a fun battle to watch but home court is huge.
Tony Allen vs Wes Matthews
Wes Matthews had a huge game against Allen and the Grizzlies back in early January. He hasn’t been able to continue that strength in the two rematches as Matthews is shooting 42.9% from the field against the Grizzlies and his average overall is only 13.3 PPG. Both numbers are low compared to his season averages. Allen has been exceptional all season on defense but his loose offensive play has frustrated fans and the coaches alike. Allen is not a shooter but he can score on backcuts and lay-ups. When Allen gets too excited he starts trying to stretch his range and that hurts the team. When under control he can dismantle a scorer’s confidence.
Tayshaun Prince vs Nicolas Batum
Batum has the total package. He can shoot from anywhere on the floor, is an excellent passer and rebounds well for a SF. He’s a strong defender as well. Batum just hasn’t figured out how to put all of his skills to the best use every night but at 24 he has a few more years to figure it all out. When, and if, he does he could skyrocket into All-Star status. Prince has been an all-star and is an excellent team defender as well. His offense is shaky at times but he isn’t the type who needs to shoot to contribute. His ball-handling is superb for a man his size as is his passing but he isn’t an adequate rebounder nor can he sky like Batum.
Zach Randolph vs J J Hickson
JJ Hickson is a candidate for most improved player of the year. After bouncing around from Cleveland to Portland to Sacramento and back to Portland, Hickson this year has finally made his mark. He has been playing out of position for a majority of the time with Aldridge at PF but with LeMarcus’ injury Hickson is back at his more natural position. Hickson has been a glass monster averaging 10.7 RPG in only 29.4 MPG this season. He also averages double figures in points. Zach Randolph returns to Portland where he was founding member of the ‘JailBlazers’ for years before being moved to the Knicks then Clippers before landing in Memphis. Randolph hasn’t been as effective since injuring his ankle against Miami but can still put up big numbers on any given night. He should be motivated coming home again.
Marc Gasol vs Meyers Leonard
Leonard is nearly as popular as Damian Lillard in Portland. In the last five games, including three starts, Leonard has averaged 13.2 PPG and 6.0 RPG on 58.3% shooting. At 7’1″ Leonard has the size to be a decent defensive center but the 21-year-old rookie from Illinois still needs to put on some weight. Marc Gasol has schooled Portland in three games averaging 18.3 PPG and 6.7 RPG. HOwever that was mostly against the smaller J J Hickson. Gasol hasn’t had much trouble with Leonard earlier in the season but the rookie has been gaining confidence of late.
Memphis’ bench has been an enigma this season. Sometimes it has been non-existent. Other times it has been unstoppable. Usually of late it has been a one man show as Jerryd Bayless has been on fire but when he hasn’t been Darrell Arthur, Ed Davis and Quincy Pondexter have stepped up. Even Austin Daye has been making solid appearances of late. Portland’s bench will likely be tested, especially Eric Maynor who will likely be called on to defend Bayless. Maynor, since coming over from OKC, has been the most solid producer with Leonard in the starting lineup. Maynor has averaged only 6.3 PPG and 3.9 APG in his last 10 games. Victor Claver, Luke Babbitt and former Tiger Will Barton are all interesting young players but haven’t risen to the call consistently yet.
Portland Roundball Society