Who: Memphis Grizzlies vs Portland Trail Blazers
When: Friday, January 4th, 7:00 PM CST
Where: FedEx Forum, Memphis, TN
Records: Memphis (20-9), Portland (16-15)
Media: SportSouth, 92.9 FM, 680 AM
Forums: 3 Shades of Blue, Grizzlies Message Board
Memphis brings it home after another hard-fought grind-it-out victory, this time on the road with the Boston Celtics. The Grizzlies have been average at best on the offensive end, but their defense has been stellar. With few exceptions, the Grizz have been holding their opponents below 90 points with regularity. The last game was an exhibit in more or less what we have come to expect from the Grizzlies, in an emotional night for the Grindfather, Tony Allen. His usually elite tenacity was ramped up to the nth degree, spearheaded by the natural increase in motivation that comes along with playing in the city, in front of the fans, and against the mentors that you kickstarted your career alongside. Additionally Mike Conley played 44 minutes of basketball in which he outplayed one of the best point guards in the game, Rajon Rondo. Finally, how about Darrell Arthur’s three pointers? He’s been playing a bit of small forward, filling in for Quincy Pondexter, and while I don’t expect him to launch a barrage from the three point line, it was a pleasant surprise to see him stroke it from a few steps behind his usual sweet spot.
Portland has been skirting .500 on the year, but is a team that has all the requisite talent to take down any given opponent on a given night. As evidenced by their victories over Los Angeles, Chicago, and San Antonio, as well as their last victory, a tight one over New York, the Blazers can beat some good teams. However, as evidenced by their follow-up to the Knicks game, they can get their doors blown off by a Toronto Raptors team (who to be fair has been absolutely on fire lately). The Blazers had struggled out the gates to some degree, but have been able to string a bunch of victories over the course of December to bring themselves into the Western Conference picture. They have a solid cornerstone player in LaMarcus Aldridge, who doesn’t get nearly enough love, and a dynamic point guard who in spite of some rookie ups and downs is on the fast track to win rookie of the year. They should be a tough match tonight.
Expected Starting Lineups:
Mike Conley vs Damian Lillard:
Damian Lillard is a lottery pick that has really paid off for the Trail Blazers. He may not shoot the greatest percentage, but he’s a dynamite scoring option from the point guard slot, who hasn’t experienced the number of setbacks you would expect from a rookie running the show. His poise heading into the league leads one to believe that he benefited greatly from spending four years on the collegiate level (technically he was a junior, but he red-shirted in 2010-11). Rumors are Mike’s battling a cold coming back from Boston, but did workout with the team Thursday. He played all but four minutes of the Boston game, and with Jerryd Bayless’s status up in the air, figures to be in for close to as much a second game in a row. Hopefully the Grizzlies can get themselves off to a strong start and into a position in which they can trust Tony Wroten, tonight, to give Conley some rest. Dude is going to be worn the heck out if J-Bay can’t go.
Tony Allen vs Wesley Matthews:
Tony isn’t a great offensive player, and we know that, but he had a very efficient game against the Celtics, going 6-8 from the floor. That was good for 15 points and he didn’t turn the ball over once. He’s been getting a grasp of his limitations lately, which is probably temporary, but I’ll take it, and has been shooting almost 60% from the field in the last five. To top it off, his defense has been nothing short of phenomenal. He has simply been eating 2-guards for breakfast. Matthews is a very good all around player, which is not to be overlooked, but seeing the way that Tony has been destroying the offensive production of his counterparts makes me confident with this one.
Rudy Gay vs Nicolas Batum:
Here’s an interesting matchup tonight, as two similarly skilled, sized, and oriented swingmen will go at it. Rudy will be playing with a heavy heart after the loss of his grandmother, of which any apparent lack of focus for him may be attributed. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family. Down to business, Batum is similar to Rudy in many ways, but this season he has kicked it up a notch from the arc, averaging nearly 2.5 makes from the land of plenty for the first time in his career. Under normal conditions, I’d gravitate towards a push, but given the circumstances:
Zach Randolph vs LaMarcus Aldridge:
*Matchup of the night* – Like TA in the last one, Zach heads into a revenge game tonight. Unlike TA, Zach faces his former longtime team on the Grizzlies own home floor, and said team looks absolutley nothing like the one he left. So all of this means pretty little in the scheme of things. What is meaningful is the beast that he is up against. LaMarcus Aldridge is again having a very good season as a do-it-all post player for the Blazers. He does basically everything well, and has the length to smother Zbo. Zach is going to have to get real physical to take him off his game, and I have every reason to believe he will, but Aldridge is too talented to be negated.
Marc Gasol vs J.J. Hickson:
J.J. Hickson is a grinder, plain and simple. He’s the type of guy that has made the most out of every opportunity that has come his way. When LeBron left Cleveland, he stepped up to assume a bigger scoring role. When he was buried on the bench in Sacramento, he managed to use the cracks of playing time that came his way to flash his skillset through. Now in Portland, he’s secured himself in the starting role, and has put together a very nice season for himself, averaging a double double through 30 games. Marc has been deferential on the offensive end of late, but has been an animal defensively, and amassed 4 steals against Boston, aiding the justification of the love he received as defensive player of the year, thus far, over at Grantland this week. Due to the size disparities, we might see Portland swap the matchups in the post.
The Grizzlies bench is banged up a bit. Fresh off the news of Quincy Pondexter’s MCL sprain, the Grizzlies bench was dealt another blow with Jerryd Bayless’s rolled ankle against Boston. He may be fine, but he’s had issues with this ankle before, so there’s always some room for worry. So all of this said, while the Grizzlies bench is hurting, the Blazers are feeling it worse. Rookie big-man, and de-facto sixth man, Meyers Leonard is sitting the weekend out with a messed up ankle, and swingman Sasha Pavlovic has dealt with ankle issues of his own thus far. Thus, the likes of Victor Claver, Ronnie Price, and Joel Freeland will be the most relied upon entities off the bench on their end, heading into this one, which this a rare case in which I’m pretty confident to say:
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