Zach Randolph has helped Memphis get very close to the top of the West. Credit: Sam Sharpe-US PRESSWIRE

Game 64 Preview: Portland Trail Blazers at Memphis Grizzlies

Blazers: 28-35 (4th Northwest Division)

Grizzlies: 38-25 (2nd Southwest Division)

Game Details: FedEx Forum Memphis, TN. 5:00 PM. TV: CSN. Radio: 750 AM (KXTG)

Projected Blazer Starting Lineup: PG Nolan Smith (#2, 6′2”, Duke), SG Wesley Matthews (#2, 6’5”, Marquette), SF Nicolas Batum (#88, 6’8″, MSB LE Mans, France), PF J.J. Hickson (#21, 6’9”, North Carolina State), C Hasheem Thabeet (#34, 7’3”, Connecticut)

Projected Grizzlies Lineup: PG Mike Conely (#11, 6’1”, Ohio State), SG Tony Allen (#9, 6’4”, Oklahoma State), SF Rudy Gay (#22, 6’8”, Connecticut), PF Mareeese Speights (#5, 6’10”, Flordia), C Marc Gasol (#33, 7’1”, FC Barcelona, Spain)

I feel like I’ve said this before, but I’ll say it again: If you are planning to watch this game and you are a Blazer fan, give yourself a round of applause. You are a true fan. These games have been meaningless for a while. But Saturday’s game goes beyond meaningless.

Remember the home finale, not three days ago? There was a game in which Portland had one minor thing to play for (pride), and Utah had one major thing to play for (a shot at the Playoffs). Utah got that win, and for the moment they’re still alive in the Playoff race. But that’s really only part of the story from Wednesday night.

On that evening, no matter how much the Blazers talked about playing for the greatest fans in the NBA, the fight left in the team was significantly less than none. Utah’s a good team that played well, knowing that a loss could put them in the same place as the Blazers at the end of the season regardless of the disparity in their win-loss records.

Maybe that’s the one thing that could be different with Saturday night in Memphis. The Grizzlies aren’t playing for a Playoff spot; they’ve already got theirs locked in.

I don’t really believe that though. Memphis is a game behind the Clippers for home court in the Playoffs, with games against the down-and-out Cleveland Cavaliers and the blow-it-up-in-slow-motion Orlando Magic following their date with the Blazers: all three at the friendly confines of the FedEx Forum.

The Clippers are at home against the Hornets, then finish the regular season on the road in Atlanta and New York City. There is potential for a loss there for sure. Memphis has to be looking at Saturday’s game as if not a must-win then at least a must not lose. There’s little hope for Portland.

There’s one positive for those Blazer fans that do choose to watch what might turn out to be a pretty unwatchable game. Memphis is one hell of a team. In fact, a couple of Portland’s best games of 2011-12 have come at home against this very same Grizzlies squad. Memphis lost Zach Randolph for awhile, and he’s been coming on strong since returning. The back court for the Grizz has proven to be both good and consistent, and the bench continues to deliver.

This Playoff time, Memphis won’t surprise anybody like they did last year, but that doesn’t mean they’re not going to be dangerous. In fact, as Portland was last season, should Memphis end up in the five hole, matched-up against the Clippers with LA having home court, they will be the popular upset pick. Expect them to make good.

One thing to watch for:

  • Can Portland compete: That’s the question. Most of the guys left on the Blazers active roster can play when given the opportunity. They can’t play all that well, but they can still play a little. An outstanding game by a couple of Portland’s little engines that could, and Saturday might be close for awhile. I’m not sure if this team can do any better than that.

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Twitter: @mikeacker | @ripcityproject

Tags: Blazers Grizzlies

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