It's crunch time in the NBA.
With just a few weeks left in the regular season, the playoff picture is starting to take shape.
This season, the top six teams in each conference will earn a playoff spot while teams 7-10 will have a play-in tournament for the final two playoff spots.
While some teams are firmly locked into the playoffs, others will have to scratch and claw until the final whistle blows.
One of those teams clawing for position is the Portland Trail Blazers.
Portland (32-26) is currently the sixth seed in the Western Conference, but that could change dramatically over the next four games.
Three of the Blazers' next four games come against the Memphis Grizzlies. Memphis (29-38) is currently the eighth seed in the Western Conference and just 2.5 games back of the Blazers. Portland, losers of five of its last six games, is in a tailspin at the worst possible time. The team has to right the ship, starting Friday night against Memphis, or face the real possibility of watching Memphis leapfrog them.
Not only are the Grizzlies right behind the Blazers, but Dallas is just a half-game back of Portland as well. Portland doesn't have to lose all three to Memphis to fear losing the six spot.
That's why this coming week is so crucial for Portland. It's make or break. An all-out freefall is not the only possible outcome. A sweep or even a series win over the Grizzlies could create a substantial amount of space between the Blazers and the four current teams in play-in position.
So, just like last season's NBA bubble, the Blazers' playoff hopes could hinge on a handful of games against the Grizzlies.
With three games against Memphis being a potential turning point of the season, let's take a look at what the Grizzlies bring to the table.
- Memphis has lost two in a row but overall has won seven of its last 12.
- The team gained major reinforcements this week with the return of Jaren Jackson. Jackson missed the first 56 games of the season after undergoing meniscus surgery in the offseason. In his debut on Wednesday, Jackson scored 15 points and grabbed 8 rebounds in 18 minutes of action vs. the Clippers. Jackson averaged 17.4 points, 4.6 rebounds, 1.4 assists, and 1.6 blocks last season.
- Ja Morant, in just his second season in the league, is averaging 19.1 points and 7.3 assists per game. Morant averaged 21.0 points last season against the Blazers.
- Center Jonas Valanciunas is averaging 12.6 rebounds per game, the third-best average in the NBA. Jusuf Nurkic and Enes Kanter will have to be on their A-games on the glass this week.
- Memphis is fourth in the league in rebounds (46.2), third in assists (27.2), first in steals (9.5) per game, so the Blazers will be tested on both sides of the court.
The Grizzlies will be a huge test for the Blazers. Should they pass it, the final 10-game stretch won't loom as large. Should they fail, then be prepared for a wild race to the finish.