Portland Trail Blazers

Portland Trail Blazers

A lot is going to have to change for the Portland Trail Blazers to have any chance at garnering the No. 8 playoff spot in the Western Conference.

And it’s going to have to happen quickly.

The Trail Blazers meet the No. 8 seed, the Memphis Grizzlies, Friday afternoon in their first of eight seeding games. That game counts.

A lot.

Portland players have constantly talked about how important it is to beat the Grizzlies, to stay ahead of New Orleans in the standings and move closer to Memphis.

But in three scrimmages, the Blazers have looked a long way from being able to “hit the ground running,” as they’ve said they want to do.

Are the Trail Blazers ready for that challenge? Their coach certainly thinks they are.

“We better be,” Terry Stotts said. “That was the whole objective of these three weeks, to get ready for that game. So, yeah.”

So does “We better be” mean they ARE ready or he HOPES they are ready?

“We’re ready,” he replied. “I mean, there’s no question we’re ready.”

It didn’t look that way for much of Tuesday’s scrimmage or through a lot of the previous two exhibitions.

The Blazers played without starting guards Damian Lillard and CJ McCollium and dropped a 131-120 decision to the Oklahoma City Thunder, which played without Chris Paul.

The loss in itself wasn’t distressing. These are non-counting games and the result is to be forgotten. But there were some distressing signs from Portland, particularly on defense.

The Trail Blazers continued to do a poor job of contesting three-point shooters, as the Thunder -- one of the worst three-point shooting teams in the league -- hit 20-40 from long range.

But even worse, given the Trail Blazers used a lot of big lineups, with Jusuf Nurkic, Zach Collins and Hassan Whiteside, OKC made 24 of its 44 shots in the paint for 48 points.

Yes, Lillard and McCollum are going to make a big difference, particularly at the offensive end. But Portland had big trouble containing dribble-penetration through the three games, which led to baskets in the paint or kick-outs to open three-point shooters.

The Trail Blazers meet Boston and Houston -- two solid three-point shooting teams -- immediately following the Memphis game. Allowing uncontested threes to those teams could be a big problem.

But things can change rapidly in the NBA and certainly the presence of Lillard on the floor -- and Stotts said he expects his captain to play against the Grizzlies -- can be a big factor.

The results of the scrimmages mean nothing. And Stotts downplayed them. Asked what his team accomplished in the scrimmages, he said, “I don’t know about the scrimmages.”

“I think our practices were probably more beneficial than our scrimmages, but playing extended minutes, playing in nine, 10-minute stretches, from a conditioning standpoint, was probably the most important thing for us.

“We had a lot of practice time and did a lot of things we wanted to get done, so the games were more about just playing games.”

They certainly weren't about winning games. But winning doesn't count until Friday,