Game Details: FedEx Forum, Memphis, TN. 5:00 PM. TV: CSN and NBA TV. Radio: KXTG (95.5 FM)
Projected Portland Starting Lineup: PG Andre Miller (#24, 6′2″, Utah), SG Wesley Matthews (#2, 6′5″, Marquette), SF Nicolas Batum (#88, 6′8″, France), PF LaMarcus Aldridge (#12, 6′11″, Texas), C Marcus Camby (#23, 6′11″, UMass)
Projected Memphis Starting Lineup: PG Mike Conley (#11, 6’1″, Ohio State), SG O.J. Mayo (#32, 6’4″, USC), SF Rudy Gay (#22, 6’8″, Connecticut), PF Zach Randolph (#50, 6’9″, Michigan State), C Marc Gasol (#33, 7’1″, Spain)
Times, as they say, could be better. Under normal circumstances, a game against a non-playoff team like the Memphis Grizzlies in mid-November would rank fairly low on the list of games the Blazers absolutely need to win. But after losing their second heartbreaker of the season to Oklahoma City and being thoroughly outplayed by New Orleans, they do not want to end this three-game road trip 0-3. Given that their next three games at home come against the Nuggets, Jazz, and Hornets, the Blazers could very easily be looking at a six-game losing streak if they’re not careful. A win tonight in Memphis would restore some of the team’s morale after what has been a decidedly rough start to the month of November.
One problem, though: every day it’s looking more and more like Brandon Roy’s knee issues are serious. He’s scheduled to undergo an MRI tomorrow, and will not play tonight. Wesley Matthews, who has shown flashes of why the Blazers signed him to a lucrative five-year deal this summer but has struggled so far this season, will start in his place. This, of course, will require everybody else to take the offense up several notches. Nicolas Batum has had a string of terrific scoring games, and there has been talk of expanding his offensive role even more–tonight will undoubtedly see this tested. Rudy Fernandez’ scoring ability off the bench will be essential. With Roy out, the responsibility of directing the offense will lay solely at the feet of Andre Miller, whose smart play was one of the few bright spots in the team’s weekend loss to New Orleans.
As far as non-contenders go, the Grizzlies are one of the tougher ones to play. Unlike the bad teams the Blazers have beaten this year, Detroit and Toronto, the Grizzlies have a multitude of players who can do serious damage if you let them. Rudy Gay is averaging a career-high 23.7 points per game. The Memphis frontcourt of Marc Gasol and our own dearly departed Zach Randolph can and will punish teams on the glass at both ends of the floor–strong rebounding nights from Marcus Camby and LaMarcus Aldridge are especially important in this game. Point guard Mike Conley, who has received ridicule for the five-year, $40 million contract extension he recently signed, has been having a solid season. The Grizzlies are coming off a three-game losing streak, and aren’t going to lay down and let the Blazers take one from them at home that easily.
This is a game the Blazers can and should win, but only if everybody picks up the slack for Roy. Memphis has plenty of weapons, but all of them can be kept in check by solid defense and aggressive rebounding. For the Blazers’ sanity, a win tonight is essential. Losing three in a row on the road right before facing three tough conference rivals at home, in the midst of all this injury talk, is the absolute worst thing that could happen to the Blazers right now.