Memphis Grizzlies

Why the Portland Trail Blazers were the bigger threat than the Memphis Grizzlies in playoff picture

Why the Portland Trail Blazers were the bigger threat than the Memphis Grizzlies in playoff picture

With just 17 games remaining on the 2019-20 NBA regular season schedule, before the season was indefinitely suspended, the playoff picture was beginning to take shape. 

The Western Conference, per usual, was more difficult to see what the postseason would look like with so much talent and just the Los Angeles Lakers had clinched a playoff berth by the time of the suspension.

Every game mattered towards the bottom of the Western Conference playoff picture with several teams in a tight race for the eighth spot: Memphis Grizzlies (32-33); Portland Trail Blazers (29-37); New Orleans Pelicans (28-36); Sacramento Kings (28-36); San Antonio Spurs (27-36) and Phoenix Suns (26-39).

Whoever that eighth seed would have been, would have had a date with LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round. We do know one thing, LeBron didn’t want that date to be with Damian Lillard.

I know this, the Lakers are a really good team and would rather see the Grizzlies than see the big, battle-tested, physical, veteran Trail Blazers. — Channing Frye

Here's what LeBron James said in March about running into Portland in the playoffs:

You got a Dame Lillard who can go for 50, a CJ McCollum that can score 40, a Carmelo Anthony that if he gets hot, which we know in the postseason could go for 35/40 as well... When you have that type of experience with Portland, they can make things happen. — LeBron James

[RELATED]: LeBron James thinks the Portland Trail Blazers would be a tough 8th seed to beat

He's not wrong and here's why:

One, remaining schedule.

There were 17 games remaining on the 2019-2020 NBA regular season schedule. Of those 17 games, Memphis was to play six teams with a below .500 record. Portland had nine out of 17 upcoming opponents under .500. 

Two, experience.

According to the 2019-2020 NBA roster survey, the Grizzlies are the sixth-youngest team in the NBA with an average age of 24.99 years old, slightly below the overall average of 26.18 years old. Portland’s average team age is 26.79 years old.

Not to forget that The Bosnian Beast Jusuf Nurkic was one game away from making his highly-anticipated debut back to the court following a gruesome injury last season just before the pandemic hit. The Blazers would have had Nurk playing down the stretch. Plus, Zach Collins was close to return following his shoulder injury earlier this season. 

Obviously, when you think about the Portland Trail Blazers, nobody gets a bigger jolt from where they were roster-wise from when this thing stopped to when they’ll resume with Nurkic and Zach Collins being available. No one gets a bugger jolt to their rotation than the Portland Trail Blazers. — Dan Sheldon 

And there’s no film on them. So now you’re like ‘Hey Hassan Whiteside you start, bring big Nurk off the bench.’ I don’t care what team, that’s a ridiculous one-two punch. Or visa versa depending on what’s best for your team. — Channing Frye

Ridiculous indeed, but for now, Rip City and the rest of the NBA will just have to patiently wait for that time to come.

Also, just a friendly reminder of what happened the last time Portland played Los Angeles:

Be sure to check out the full Talkin’ Blazers Podcast with host NBA Champion Channing Frye and Emmy Award winner Dan Sheldon.

We're talkin' about practice -- and Trail Blazers NOT practicing

We're talkin' about practice -- and Trail Blazers NOT practicing

It’s interesting how the NBA game has evolved over the years, not only with the increased volume of three-point shots, but the way teams are now approaching the 82-game schedule.

While not all teams are heavily involved in “load management,” almost all of them, including the Trail Blazers, have cut back on their number of practices.

What we’re seeing with the Trail Blazers through almost the entire season, but increasing as the long schedule nears its end, is practices being held only when the team has two consecutive days off between games. In that situation, the Trail Blazers normally take the first day off, then practice the following day.

When the team is on what has become an NBA routine of games every other day, it is giving its players the day off in what is called an “H&P day.” Those letters stand for health and performance, the department that’s responsible for the team’s wellness.

On those days, the players get the treatment they need for lingering injuries or soreness and are free to work out in the weight room or on the court or just look at video of an upcoming opponent or the previous game.

Other off-days are just “blackout days,” which means players are free to do whatever they wish.

It’s the reason that Jusuf Nurkic, in need of another practice prior to his season debut Sunday, had to go to Santa Cruz, Calif., to work out with Golden State’s G-League team.

All of this is much different from previous eras when teams practiced on a good share of non-game days, but players in high-minute categories were free to sit out as needed. If teams were not playing well, they practiced long and even hard. If teams came off a tough trip or were playing well, they got days off as rewards.

I’m not saying that was better policy than what’s going on today, it was just different.

But what I would say is that there are circumstances that would seem to warrant more practice. Things such as the way the Trail Blazers have defended recently.

Or things such as the upcoming, Thursday night game vs. Memphis -- which is a critical game if this team is going to reach its goal of making the playoffs.

I thought it was telling that the head coach and his players spoke after Tuesday night’s win over Phoenix about how beneficial their Monday practice was and how critical the Memphis game is.

And then came an announcement later that the team will  not be practicing Wednesday.

Now I understand this has been a long grind of a season with way more injuries than usual. And I know there will be a shootaround on game day to go over the scouting report and strategy. I understand that the starters played big minutes Tuesday. But, still… just one extra, short practice to make sure everybody is on the same page for this game?

Times change, yes. But not always for the better.

Trail Blazers have left themselves little margin for error in 'The Race for Eighth'

Trail Blazers have left themselves little margin for error in 'The Race for Eighth'

You could call it “The Race for Eighth.”

The Trail Blazers kicked off the critical final portion of their schedule Wednesday night with a home win over Washington.

And make no mistake, there are several winnable games ahead -- but Portland has left itself with very little margin for error if it is going to climb into the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

Six of the Blazers’ next seven games are at home, almost all of them against teams either virtually even with them in the standings or below them. Meaning, of course, those games must be won.

Portland travels to Phoenix for a Friday night game, returns to Moda for a Saturday contest vs. Sacramento, followed by home games vs. the Suns, Memphis, Houston, Minnesota and Dallas. After that, it’s back to the road for six games -- the last long trip of the season.

Portland is chasing Memphis in the standings right now, but New Orleans, Sacramento and San Antonio are also in the race. Keep in mind, the Trail Blazers have played Memphis just once so far and lost that game to the Grizzlies on the road. There are two contests left against Memphis, both in Portland, and they are close to must-wins for tiebreaker purposes.

Memphis is four games better than Portland in the loss column, which sets up some dramatic scenarios for the Blazers.

The Grizzlies are a .500 team and have 20 games left and if they win just half of them, they will finish at .500 -- 41-41. For the Trail Blazers to finish at .500, they must win both games vs. Memphis and 13 of their remaining 19, which is a lot to ask from a team that’s compiled a 28-35 record so far.

And that’s not even mentioning the possibility that one of the other teams in the Race for Eighth will get hot and pass up both Portland and Memphis.

Obviously, that record would be easier to attain if either Zach Collins or Jusuf Nurkic returned to the active roster to provide depth in the middle. But there is no word on when or if either of those players will be back this season.

You could find out launch codes for guided missiles easier than you can uncover condition reports on rehabbing Trail Blazer players.

Caleb Swanigan has been serving as the team’s backup center, but is more of a power forward than center and doesn’t provide the rim protection this squad needs to make its defense barely adequate. He fouled out in 10 minutes Wednesday night vs. the Wizards.

But the Trail Blazers have Damian Lillard back in the lineup and he doesn’t have an ounce of give-up in him. Surrender is not in his vocabulary.

“It’s a great opportunity to do something special,” he said with conviction Wednesday, prior to the game. “It’s going to be fun.”

Damian Lillard knows what time it is... and it involves a run to the NBA playoffs

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USATI

Damian Lillard knows what time it is... and it involves a run to the NBA playoffs

As legendary UFC announcer Bruce Buffer would yell: "It's time!"

Although, it's not time for a fight inside the octagon. It's time for the Blazers to make a playoff run. 

To stay in the race the Blazers desperately needed a victory in Orlando. Heading into Monday night's game, the Trail Blazers had a 12% chance of making the playoffs, down from 24% coming out of the All-Star break.

Riding the back of CJ McCollum, they were able to grab the 130-107 victory over the Magic. 

Damian Lillard, who has missed the previous six games but intends to return on Wednesday, took to social media after the win to send a simple message to his team and Rip City: 

“Let’s make a run for it” - Damian Lillard

Fans have been debating for some time now whether or not the Blazers should tank or make the playoff push. 

Well, there is no more need to ask that question cause Lillard gave you the answer. 

The word "tank" is not in his vocabulary. 

With 20 games left on the schedule Portland sits 3.5 games back of the eighth-place Memphis Grizzlies.

Luckily for the Blazers, they have two games remaining against Memphis. That's two chances to dramatically make up ground.

Unfortunately, Memphis isn't the only team the Blazers have to worry about. 

The New Orleans Pelicans, Sacramento Kings, and San Antonio Spurs are all in the same spot as Portland.

That's five teams looking for one playoff spot. 

This one is going to be a race to the finish and any car with Damian Lillard in the driver seat stands a good chance.

Fans, you might want to buckle up.

It's Dame Time. 

Former Trail Blazer Anthony Tolliver joins Grizzlies, Oregon standout Jordan Bell waived

Former Trail Blazer Anthony Tolliver joins Grizzlies, Oregon standout Jordan Bell waived

Anthony Tolliver can now add Memphis to his tour of duty. 

Per Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium, the 34-year-old forward is headed to Grind City on a 10-day contract to join the Memphis Grizzlies. 

Charania says multiple teams looked to acquire the NBA veteran’s services before he agreed to head to Memphis. 

Tolliver signed a one-year deal with the Trail Blazers last July. He played in 33 games with 9 starts while averaging 3.9 points and 3.3 boards per game. The Sacramento Kings acquired Tolliver, as well as Kent Bazemore, via a trade on January 20 which sent Trevor Ariza, Caleb Swanigan and Wenyen Gabriel back to Portland. 

The Kings and Tolliver agreed to a contract buyout over the weekend, giving him time to find a new home in time for the NBA playoffs. Memphis is currently eighth seed in the Western Conference and if Tolliver can make an impact in the next few games, he could aid a playoff contender. 

As a result of Tolliver’s signing Monday, the Grizzlies waived forward Jordan Bell. Charania first reported the news Monday. 

The former Oregon Ducks star was part of a four-team,12-player deal earlier this month, which sent him from Minnesota to Houston. One day later, Memphis acquired Bell in a swap that sent forward Bruno Caboclo and a 2023 second-round pick back to the Rockets. He was reunited with former Oregon teammate Dillon Brooks, but that was short-lived. 

Prior to his multiple trades, the 25-year-old was averaging 3.1 points and 2.9 rebounds in 27 games as a reserve for Minnesota. His last game in a Grizzlies uniform was on Feb. 26, where he scored five points in six minutes as Houston dominated Memphis 140-112. 

Damian Lillard will watch from the sideline as the Trail Blazers start the post-All-Star break run

Damian Lillard will watch from the sideline as the Trail Blazers start the post-All-Star break run

The Portland Trail Blazers already had a rough road to get to playoffs. 

With 26 games left on the schedule, the Blazers currently sit four games behind the Memphis Grizzlies for the eighth and final playoff spot. 

The same Memphis Grizzlies that beat the Blazers last week in the team's final game before the All-Star break. 

The Blazers didn't only lose that game that night, they lost Damian Lillard. 

With 3:45 left in the game, Lillard went up for a layup but came down awkwardly and in a noticeable amount of pain. It was unclear what the injury was at first, but it was declared after the game that it was a right groin strain. 

The injury kept Lillard from playing in the All-Star Game this past weekend, and now it appears it will keep him on the sideline for a few more games. 

Lillard did not practice with the team on Thursday and told the media that he would not play tomorrow against the Pelicans and possibly beyond. 

When asked how long he anticipates being out, Lillard said "If I had to guess I would say at least 3-4 games. Maybe five games."

Already behind the 8-Ball, the Blazers now have to start the "second half" of the season without the face of their franchise. 

For Lillard, it's just about getting the groin back to 100%. Being able to cut, run, and explode without pain or without fear of re-aggravating the injury. 85% healthy isn't enough to hit the court. It's just not worth the risk.

I feel alright. I've been doing rehab since Thursday last week. It's gotten a lot better but I think it's just one of those things where you start feeling better right away, but I think that last 15-10% is what takes some time. That's what takes the longest. - Damian Lillard

Without Lillard leading the charge, the Blazers will likely lean on fellow star CJ McCollum to shoulder the loud. 

"Everybody has to do a little bit more," said Head Coach Terry Stotts. "Obviously, CJ (McCollum) will be counted on to be the primary playmaker and run the offense when he is out there." 

Stotts would not disclose whether or not McCollum or Anfernee Simons would end up getting the start at point guard, but it doesn't take a basketball expert to know that McCollum will be the head of the Portland monster for the next week, and McCollum knows it. 

Just play hard. That's the biggest thing. Play hard, try to execute, keep the game close and win it down the stretch. Protect home court and just make sure I'm putting guys in the best position to succeed. Dame does a lot for us offensively - calling plays, facilitating and scoring -  I'll have to do a little bit more of that. At the same time, one person isn't gonna replace his production. We gotta all be better. - CJ McCollum

According to PlayoffStatus.com, the Blazers have a 25% chance of ending the season in the eight spot, and just a 2% chance of climbing all the way to seven. Meanwhile, the team they are chasing, the Memphis Grizzlies, have a 44% chance of securing the eights seed.

On the bright side, the Blazers still have two games against the Grizzlies remaining on the schedule, both of them at home. Needless to say, they're both huge games. A chance to drastically close the gap, as long as they stay afloat without their captain in the meantime.

Right now, it's just one game at a time, and it starts on Friday against the Pelicans. 

Damian Lillard remains the rock of the Trail Blazers even after injury

Damian Lillard remains the rock of the Trail Blazers even after injury

MEMPHIS – There were plenty of emotions late Wednesday night and none of them were good.

The feeling of defeat even came secondary after the Blazers back to back losses to New Orleans Tuesday and Memphis Wednesday night.

It's no way to head into an All-Star break.

The Trail Blazers will have a long time to think about things.

And losing Damian Lillard to an injury takes the breath out of Rip City. 

And that's exactly what happened Wednesday night. 

Carmelo Anthony entered the game for Lillard with 3:22 remaining in the game after Lillard came up limping following a drive to the basket. 

The Trail Blazers point guard walked straight to the locker room once play was whistled dead. 

Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts gave an injury update on Lillard immediately following the game.

“He has a right groin strain and that’s all. We don’t know the severity. He’ll get an MRI tomorrow.”

Walking into the Blazers locker room, the feeling was somber.

Lillard sat in the corner holding a pack of ice with Portland's team of trainers periodically checking in with him.

The five-time All-Star will not participate in either the All-Star game Sunday night or in the three-point contest on Saturday.  

He said he realized it wouldn’t be smart to continue to play through the pain versus Memphis.

When it happened, I just felt it. I knew that I pulled it. It made no sense to be out there for the last few minutes and risk trying to play through it and make things worse. I walked off the court just fine even though it was painful... It was strong when [the trainers] were making me go against resistance. It was strong and wasn’t weak where I couldn’t do stuff. That was all I needed to know. That’s why I walked off. We did some exercises and stuff just to see that it was still strong [in the locker room], and it was. -- Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard said postgame

The entire Trail Blazers’ bench stood up as soon as they noticed Lillard was in pain.

Nobody likes to see a player injured, especially the team's All-Star.

The 29-year-old Lillard is disappointed he won’t be participating this year.

“Obviously, it’s something that you look forward to, those festivities and having fun. My health comes first and I knew right away that it wasn’t going to happen. I will still be there and be a part of it, but I’m not going to be able to play.” 

Lillard has been on a historic tear as of late and heading into the All-Star break with the groin injury that nobody is exactly sure of the severity is unsettling.

But, in true Lillard-positive fashion, remains the rock of the franchise:

Now I know what I need to do for the next week and try to have myself ready to go. It almost happened with perfect timing, so we will see. -- Damian Lillard

The Trail Blazers are 25-31 on the season and need to finish the regular season 17-9 to have a winning record. 

They currently 9th place in the Western Conference, four games behind the Memphis Grizzlies for the 8th and final spot. 

While the timing is unfortunate, it could be perceived as a blessing in disguise as the Blazers look to make a final push to become playoff eligible.

"I want to make sure that I'm healthy so when the break is over I'm rested. I'm going to do all that I can so that I'm ready as soon as possible."

As his postgame interview wrapped, he was asked if in his mind, he'll be ready to be back against New Orleans next Friday, and Lillard, nodded 'yeah.'

"We’ve got a lot of games left," he said. "The door is still open. Now, we’ve just got to be even better post All-Star break. It’s far from over. Believe that. It’s far from over.”

Fatigue, as much as the Grizzlies, vanquished the Trail Blazers

Fatigue, as much as the Grizzlies, vanquished the Trail Blazers

The Trail Blazers had nothing left in their tank Wednesday night in Memphis against the Grizzlies.

Tired legs neither defend nor shoot well.

“A lot of short shots,” CJ McCollum said. “This year, it seems like we’ve had a lot of our division games on back-to-backs, like Utah. But no excuses, it’s part of the game, you just go hoop.

“We were a step slow. It’s normal. Having two or three days off before this game (as the Grizzlies did), that’s life.”

It was just too many back-to-back games recently against teams that were fully rested.

“Disappointing two-game trip,” Coach Terry Stotts said. “Six games in nine nights is a tough stretch. (Memphis) had a lot of energy. They were rested. A tough loss.”

The schedule would be difficult enough for a team with a full complement of players, but the Trail Blazers are trying to make do with a solid starting lineup, two second-year guards behind them and mostly G-Leaguers in the front court.

It’s not working.

And when the group is worn down, things get a whole lot worse. It’s always going to cause fatigue as the starters need to be on the floor for more minutes to compensate for not much help from the reserves.

Certainly Anfernee Simons (young, fresh legs) stood tall in this one, hitting six of his seven threes on the way to 22 points. The other four reserves who played combined for six points.

“A lot of shots weren’t falling,” said Hassan Whiteside, who made six of his eight and finished with 16 points, 11 rebounds but no blocked shots. “We came off a tough back-to-back. Next time we won’t be coming off a back-to-back.”

The story of this season is always going to start and end with injuries. There is no healthy backup center on the roster. There are backup forwards, but most of them are inexperienced or just flat-out not good enough to play at the NBA level yet.

“We’re down a lot of bodies,” McCollum said. “We’ve been down bodies. We’ve gone through a lot this year. We don’t know what the timetable is going to be with Dame (who suffered a groin injury in the fourth quarter) but the more bodies we can get back, the better.”

No Portland team in recent memory has needed the All-Star break as much as this one, There is hope that Jusuf Nurkic could return in a few weeks and perhaps Zach Collins could be back, too.

But with Portland now five games behind Memphis in the loss column, there is reasonable doubt they can get back in time to save a playoff berth.

Slumped in his locker afterward, facing the fact that he won’t be able to play in this weekend’s All-Star Game, Lillard would not concede anything about his team’s postseason chances.

“It’s far from over,” Lillard said. “Believe that. It’s far from over.”

Instant Analysis: Blazers run out of gas in Memphis, limp into All-Star Break

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USA Today Images

Instant Analysis: Blazers run out of gas in Memphis, limp into All-Star Break

MEMPHIS –  Wednesday’s game between the Trail Blazers and Grizzlies quickly turned into a track meet. Memphis like to get up and down quickly. With the home crowd behind them the Grizzlies took advantage of Portland’s struggles on transition defense.

Memphis got out on the fastbreak and pounded it in the paint. In the first quarter Memphis took a 31-27 lead.

It was a quarter full of runs to end the first half. Portland was in a rhythm offensively and found themselves in a four-point hold at the break.  

The final period was all about mustering up enough energy for the Blazers to complete the 10-point deficit there were in to start the fourth.  

But, following Monday night’s game in New Orleans, Portland looked like they ran out of gas.

To make matters worse, Damian Lillard left the game with 3:22 remaining. He looked like he was in a lot pain and headed straight to the locker room.   

FINAL BOX SCORE: GRIZZLIES 111, TRAIL BLAZERS 104

Here are three quick takeaways from Wednesday’s loss:

Trail Blazers Insider Dwight Jaynes

The back-to-back games against teams who have had extra rest has finally taken its toll. Trail Blazers lost energy as the game went along and it showed in their offense and defense.

Trail Blazers Reporter Jamie Hudson:

Memphis used its length to its advantage Wednesday night, alerting all sorts of Blazers' shot at the rim. Whether it was Brandon Clarke or Jaren Jackson Jr., the Grizzlies bigs were protecting the paint at all costs. However, there were a few non-calls that didn’t go Portland's way. That’s how it goes, though.

As for the Grizzlies rising star Ja Morant, the Blazers didn’t allow him to get off too many good looks. It was Morant’s fellow rookie that went off. Clarke was the leading scorer for Memphis with 27 on an efficient 12-of-14 shooting. The Gonzaga alum brought the energy on both ends.

Trail Blazers Producer Chris Bukhardt:

The All-Star break is officially here, and it couldn't come soon enough for the Blazers. Going 0-2 on this road trip puts them way behind the 8-ball int he race for the 8th and final playoff spot. The best way to make a run in the "second half" of the season is to get healthy. With more than a week off before their next game, the Blazers will have time to see Mario Hezonja and Nassir Little rest their ankles and hopefully get back in the lineup. The big story though will be Jusuf Nurkic. All-Star has always been the benchmark date we have circled for some reason. Will the Bosnian Beast be ready to go in the near future? For the Blazers well being, we sure hope so. 

Up Next: Following the All-Star Break, Trail Blazers will host the New Orleans Pelicans next Friday night. Catch all the action between Portland and New Orleans at 7:00pm on NBC Sports Northwest and the MyTeams App.

NBCSNW will be in Chicago for All-Star weekend, so check back for future updates and heck back throughout tonight and tomorrow for more articles and videos from the players!

Trail Blazers Pregame Notebook: Blazers look head to the break on a high note

Trail Blazers Pregame Notebook: Blazers look head to the break on a high note

Before the Trail Blazers and Grizzlies tip-off tonight on NBC Sports Northwest and on the 'MyTeams' App, Blazers head coach Terry Stotts talked about the challenge of facing this tough, young Memphis team.

"They play with a lot of energy," said Stotts. "They have a young team that continues to improve. That's probably one of the biggest things, is how they've gotten better over the course of the season. Morant is having an outstanding year."

Coach Stotts knows it will be a challenge, he also knows this is one of the most important games of the season to date with regards to playoff standings. 

"When you look at the standings... it's simple math. There's one spot for a bunch of teams."

It goes without saying, but this is a must-win for Portland. A chance to pick up ground in the playoff race and head to the All-Star break on a high note. 

HEAR FROM COACH STOTTS HERE:

BLAZERS INJURY REPORT:

F Mario Hezonja (left ankle sprain), F Nassir Little (left ankle sprain), F Rodney Hood (left ruptured Achilles tendon), F Zach Collins (left shoulder dislocation), and C Jusuf Nurkic (left leg fracture) are out for tonight’s game at New Orleans. (edited) 

GRIZZLIES INJURY REPORT:

Grayson Allen (left hip injury),  Justise Winslow (back injury) and John Konchar (Two-way) are out.