Too bad we won't see Bryant Reeves tonight. We can all imagine though. Photo courtesy Hall of Fame Memorabilia.

Game 18 Preview: Portland Trail Blazers vs. Memphis Grizzlies

Blazers: 10-7 (4th Northwest Division)

Grizzlies: 10-6 (1st Southwest Division)

Game Details: Rose Garden Arena Portland, OR. 7:00 PM. TV: CSN Radio: KXTG (750AM)

Projected Portland Starting Lineup: PG Raymond Felton (#5, 6’1”, North Carolina), 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 Tony Allen (#9, 6’4”, Oklahoma State), SF Rudy Gay (#22, 6’8”, Connecticut), PF Marreese Speights (#5, 6’10”, Florida), C Marc Gasol (#33, 7’1”, Barcelona, Spain)

Let’s talk about tests. Portland has had a few tests already in January, and for the most part they’ve done OK. Oklahoma City on the road was a test: Passed. Los Angeles Lakers and Clippers both at home were tests: passed those too.

They’ve also failed a couple of tests this month. Winning in Detroit to finish their first long road trip at .500: FAIL. Staying undefeated at home: FAIL. Tuesday night is a two-part test, or to be more accurate, the first part of a two-part test.

Memphis is on fire right now. They haven’t lost since January 10th. One night ago they came from 20 down in Oracle Arena to beat the Golden State Warriors. Two weeks ago the Grizz weren’t in the Playoff picture, as of Tuesday night they’re fourth. If the Playoffs started tomorrow, they’d have home court advantage.

But Memphis is beatable, and not only that, they too are stepping on the court facing a pretty big test. In the course of ripping off seven straight W’s, the Grizzlies have only defeated one team over .500. And that team, the Chicago Bulls, were playing without their star player, Derrick Rose. Memphis must feel like they’ve won the scheduling lottery, and they are about to be asked to make good.

Portland still has only lost once at home. They have an advantage playing in the Rose Garden. They don’t get as sluggish when shots aren’t falling, they play better defense for whole possessions, and they have the ability to catch fire and blow up the scoreboard.

To beat Memphis, the Blazers have to do two things. First, they have to defend the entire floor. Against the Kings on Monday Portland gave up a lot of open looks. They didn’t go in because Sacramento, as a team, can’t really shoot. Memphis can. Defending the three and the long two is going to be just as important as keeping Marc Gasol from getting easy lay-ups.

Second, the Blazers have to score. The Grizzlies are a good rebounding team. They aren’t as good without Zach Randolph, but they’re still pretty darn good. Portland has to get open looks. More importantly, they have to knock down those open looks.

Both the Blazers and the Grizzlies are on the second night of back-to-backs. Portland stayed at home; the Grizz probably got into PDX at or around midnight last night (don’t quote me on that I’m just guessing based on how far it is from Oakland to Portland and what time the GS/MEM game ended). The Blazers should be a step fresher than their opponents.

Here’s the caveat. Portland plays tomorrow night too, making the reverse trip that Memphis made last night after this contest tonight. The Blazers have to see that Golden State game in their rear-view and know that Oracle is not a place they ever win. Saving their energy for tomorrow’s game might end up costing tonight’s. And then, of course, there’s no telling what tomorrow will hold. Portland needs to win tonight and do it without thinking about tomorrow. That’s the test.

Here’s what I’m watching for:

  • Portland’s bench play: Memphis is strong at the starting five, but without Darrell Arthur (out with an injury) and Shane Battier (took his talents to South Beach) their bench is a bit thin. Portland has gotten solid play as of late from Craig Smith. He should be able to continue that tonight. There’s no telling if Jamal Crawford can string two games together. And Nicolas Batum needs to play better, or at least shoot a few more times than once. If Portland’s bench beats Memphis’s bench, the Blazers win.
  • Nicolas Batum: I know I just mentioned him, but he needs to be brought up again. Nic didn’t have a great game on Monday. Blame it on the problems with his mother if you like. Personally, I don’t care. He needs to play better. I’m not blaming him, not at all, but when he gets in he needs to get involved. The team can’t win without him.
  • Marc Gasol versus LaMarcus Aldridge: My guess is they won’t face each other too much directly, but this is one of those times when LaMarcus has a chance to have a statement game against one of the guys coming up behind him in the West and getting a ton of positive heat. The younger Gasol is a scorer, but I don’t think he can outscore, or outplay LA.

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Twitter: @mikeacker | @ripcityproject

Tags: Blazers Craig Smith Grizzlies Jamal Crawford LaMarcus Aldridge Marc Gasol Nicolas Batum

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