NBA Playoff Preview: (5) Memphis vs. (4) Portland
The Memphis Grizzlies and the Portland Trail Blazers met 4 times this year. If the regular season is any indication of how the playoffs will go, this series will be over in a week. The Grizzlies started this years regular season series with Portland on the road November 28th and beat the Trail Blazers by 13. It didn’t get much better from there for Portland as Memphis went on to sweep the 4 game regular season series 4-0, beating the Trailblazers by an average of 8.5 points a game.
Photo Credit: Brandon Dill-AP
The Grizzlies must feel confident hosting a team in the first round that they swept during the regular season. But there should be concern over the health of the team and the way they backed into the 5th seed down the stretch. They were 16-13 after the All-Star break and saw their season long strangle hold on the #2 seed slip away in the last 3 days of the season. Ironically they opened up play after the All-Star break at Portland after an 11 day break. They were 40-14 at that point and had been holding their own against Golden State for the #1 seed in the West.
Through most of the year they looked like the team that Bill Simmons predicted would come out of the West. They acclimated Jeff Green into the mix while playing lock down D and holding teams to around 95 points a game. After beating Portland the first game back from the All-Star break, they went to L.A. and beat the Clippers. Then something happened to their mojo. They lost the next game at Sacramento by 12. They then proceeded to play win one, lose one basketball. They hit low points losing in Boston, who was not looking like a playoff team themselves at the time, and at Detroit by 10. It was frustrating for fans and hard to pinpoint exactly what happened. They were relatively healthy all year until the last few weeks. The fans and Grizzlies organization just kept hoping it would work itself out. Now, heading into the 1st round of the playoffs…we’re still not sure it has.
Photo Credit: Getty Images
The Trail Blazers started the season much like Memphis did…HOT! Portland started the season 30-8 with winning streaks of 9, 5 twice and 4 twice within that stretch. Then they started a trend like the Grizzlies. But their downward spiral happened earlier than the Grizzlies did. After that 30-8 start, they lost 8 of their next 10 games. They continued to play win one, lose one ball like Memphis. They went 15-14 after the All-Star break and had losing streaks of 5 and 4, which is their current streak heading into the Memphis series.
Portland has battled nagging injuries here and there but suffered a serious blow on March 5th when Wesley Matthews went down with a season ending Achilles injury against Dallas. Not only did the Trail Blazers lose 16 points a game when Matthews went down, they lost their lock-down defender. They were a Top 5 NBA defense before Matthews went down but fell closer to the bottom 5 after the Achilles injury. They have given up more than 100 points in 14 of the 22 games played since losing Matthews. Also, since the Wesley Matthews injury, Portland is 10-12, including the aforementioned 5 game losing streak and the current 4 game losing streak they take into the playoffs.
|2014-15 season||Memphis Grizzlies||Portland Trail Blazers|
|Points in the paint||1st||26th|
|Keys||Health, Z-Bo plays big||Health, Lillard and Aldridge make up for loss of Matthews scoring|
|Vegas Odds to win it all||25-1||50-1|
So again, you would think the Grizzlies have all the confidence in the world with home court advantage over a team they swept in the regular season. But the unknown in this series is too great to feel comfortable either way. Both teams have injuries that need to heel quickly. For Memphis, it is Tony Allen’s hamstring and Mike Conley’s foot. For Portland, it is Nicolas Batum’s knee and Arron Afflalo’s shoulder. As of now, 2 days before Game 1 tips, all players say they expect to play come Sunday.
I have more concern for Portland than I do for Memphis. Not because of the current health of the teams or the way Memphis dominated Portland in all 4 meetings this year. My concern for the Trail Blazers is how are they going to make up for the scoring that Matthews provided. You are asking Damian Lillard, Nicolas Batum and LaMarcus Aldridge to carry 75-80% of the scoring load. The other reason I cannot pick Portland in this series is what happens underneath the goal. Not only do the Grizzlies have probably the best front court in the NBA with Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol, the numbers say they are a very efficient team. The Grizzlies are the NBA’s number 1 team in points in the paint, while the Trail Blazers rank near the bottom of the league. Given the way the Grizzlies controlled the season series, the points in the paint differential, the recent defensive struggles by Portland and not to mention I don’t know how the Trail Blazers will make up for the loss of Wesley Matthews…I have to go with the Memphis Grizzlies in this 1st
Prediction: Memphis in 5
Brandon covers the NBA & Memphis Grizzlies for MyFantasySportsTalk.Com, follow him on Twitter @New_Breid
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