Both the Memphis Grizzlies and the Portland Trail Blazers would have liked to head into the postseason in better form and a little bit healthier, but it is what it is for both teams, kicking off their first round playoff series.
The Grizzlies held the number two spot in the Western conference for most of the season but fell short of hanging on to it late in the season, finding themselves dropping to fifth. They still have the home court advantage despite being the lower seed, but the road to making the second conference finals in franchise history became a lot more difficult.
The Blazers had championship thoughts on their minds until Wesley Matthews finished the season. Since then, it’s been mostly LaMarcus Aldridge, a rock in a sea of inconsistent shooting, most of it by Damian Lillard. The All-Star point guard says he isn’t worried about losing six of their last seven games, but the Blazers aren’t hitting the playoffs in the best shape.
Being the second best team in the league when it comes to points allowed per game, the Grizzlies obviously rely more than anything on slowing other teams down, with Marc Gasol anchoring the defense in the paint while Mike Conley puts a lot of pressure on the ball handlers, helped by Tony Allen when he’s actually playing. But Gasol isn’t 100% (will play), and the same goes for Conley and Allen.
Three-point shooting is going to be a big issue in this series. The Blazers love spreading the floor but less with ball movement and more with individual dribbling from Lillard opening up opportunities for others (doesn’t necessarily mean it). The Grizzlies are a lot less efficient with their outside shooting, but are 22-1 this season when they hit as much or more than their opponents from beyond the arc.
The Grizzlies are probably favored to win this series, but if Conley has a hard time with Lillard early on and Aldridge manages to stretch the floor and draw out Randolph or Gasol away from the basket, the Blazers’ inconsistent shooting might become a thing of the past and the Grizzlies will be put in the unwanted situation of actually trying to match another team shot for shot.