Game Details: Rose Garden, Portland, OR. 7:00 PM. TV: CSN. Radio: KXTG (95.5 FM).
Projected Portland Starting Lineup: PG Andre Miller (#24, 6’3″, Utah), SG Wesley Matthews (#2, 6’5″, Marquette), SF Gerald Wallace (#3, 6’7″, Alabama), 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 Sam Young (#4, 6’6″, Pittsburgh), SF Tony Allen (#9, 6’4″, Oklahoma State), PF Zach Randolph (#50, 6’9″, Michigan State), C Marc Gasol (#33, 7’1″, Spain)
This is where the playoff-seeding battle gets tricky. As of tonight, the Blazers hold a one-game lead over the Memphis Grizzlies for the sixth spot in the West. Whichever team wins tonight will own the season-series tiebreaker. If Portland wins, they clinch no worse than sixth. The top of the West standings is very much up in the air as well: the Mavericks, Lakers, and Thunder are all within a half-game of one another for the second, third, and fourth seeds, in that order, so unless the Lakers, who have lost five games in a row, win their last two, being sixth won’t be as ideal for the Blazers as it could have been. From the standpoint of both Blazers fans and NBA fans who just want to see compelling first-round playoff series all around, the ideal scenario here would be for Portland to face Dallas (matchup-wise, their best shot at a first-round upset) and for Memphis to face LA (the Grizzlies, while a longshot to win that series, would probably give the Lakers more trouble than the eighth-seeded New Orleans Hornets would).
Confused yet? Me too. It’s easy to overthink this stuff. The only thing the Blazers can control is whether they win tonight. Expect this game to be ugly. These two teams are in the exact same position in terms of jockeying for playoff position, but beyond that, the Grizzlies are the kind of team that can create headaches for teams that are better than them on paper, which the Blazers are. The Grizzlies have, in Tony Allen and Shane Battier, a wing-defender combo to match Nicolas Batum and Gerald Wallace. Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol will give LaMarcus Aldridge and Marcus Camby (cleared to play after missing the last several games with a back injury) all they can handle. Memphis has been without arguably its best player, Rudy Gay, for a while, which has made them fight even harder to get where they are. The Blazers and their fans know how that is.
We won’t know until tomorrow night who the Blazers’ first-round opponent will be in the playoffs, but whoever it is, their prospects for the postseason will look that much more promising if they can take care of home against another back-half playoff challenger tonight. Memphis won’t make it easy on them, but Portland has a full roster tonight with Camby back. My gut tells me they’ll pull this one out.