PBT First-Round Playoff Previews: Portland Trail Blazers vs. Memphis Grizzlies
Blazers: 51-31 (fourth place in Western Conference)
Grizzlies: 55-27 (fifth place in Western Conference)
Blazers: It would be easier to list who’s healthy. LaMarcus Aldridge’s thumb is probably fine but he missed two of the last three games with a left foot sprain. Nicolas Batum has a bruised knee and missed the season finale. C.J. McCollum has a left ankle sprain. Arron Afflalo will miss at least the first game with a right shoulder strain. And that’s before you get to the season-ending injuries to Dorell Wright and Wesley Matthews.
Grizzlies: Marc Gasol (ankle) and Mike Conley (foot) are banged up. Courtney Lee is playing through a torn hand ligament. All should be available for the series opener but they’re worth keeping an eye on.
Blazers: 105.5 points scored per 100 possessions (8th in NBA); 101.4 points allowed per 100 possessions (10th in NBA).
Grizzlies: 103.1 points scored per 100 possessions (13th in NBA); 99.9 points allowed per 100 possessions (4th in NBA).
THREE KEYS TO THE SERIES
1) Will the Blazers find wing production? The loss of Matthews effectively killed Portland’s hopes of contending. The injuries to Wright and Afflalo don’t help. Beyond Batum and McCollum (who are dealing with minor injuries of their own), the Blazers are counting on a lot of production from the likes of Allen Crabbe, Alonzo Gee and Tim Frazier, which isn’t ideal to say the least. That’s all the more pressure on Damian Lillard to have another heroic series like last year’s first-round matchup with Houston.
2) Can the Grizzlies get anything on the perimeter? We say this every year, and you’d think they would have done something about it by now, but there’s no reliable outside shooting anywhere on Memphis’ roster. Jeff Green has shot 36 percent from three since being traded to the Grizzlies, and their two best three-point threats, Conley and Lee, are playing through injuries. The Grizzlies will have to do all of their damage in the paint, which, luckily for them, they’re perfectly equipped to do.
3) How far can Aldridge and Lillard carry the Blazers? With Matthews gone, the Blazers’ two superstars are going to have more defensive attention on them than ever. Memphis can put Tony Allen on Lillard and Zach Randolph on Aldridge. With Aldridge’s thumb injury, a matchup with Randolph can’t be something he’s looking forward to, but unless one of the unknown role players steps up, it’s going to be a two-man job.
This is going to be a hard-fought series with terrific home crowds in both cities. But between Memphis’ home-court advantage and the Blazers’ litany of injuries, I have to think the Grizzlies will prevail. I’m picking Grizzlies in 6 but I don’t feel great about it.