The Portland Trail Blazers (42-21) will play as guests tonight against the Memphis Grizzlies (36-26). This will be the second of three regular season match-ups. The first meeting went to the Grizzlies in Portland (98-81) as Zach Randolph lead his team with 23 points and 10 rebounds. The Trail Blazers enter the game on a two game losing streak while the Grizzlies are on a two game winning streak.
The Trail Blazers are definitely limping. After two heartbreaking losses, they land in Memphis to face a tough Grizzlies team. They are in the midst of a five game road trip and have not started on the right note. The loss to the Mavericks (103-98) shouldn’t sting as bad as it does given the fact the Trail Blazers trailed by 30 points at one point. However, they found a way to fight back and hold a lead in the fourth quarter, only to see it slip away. They were more competitive against the Rockets on Sunday but again let a late lead fall through their grips. Within the last month, the Trail Blazers have lost all six games in which the score was tied or within two points with two minutes remaining. Closing out opponents has been the Achilles heel for this team and they must find a way to overcome it.
The Grizzlies look like they have found their game at the right time. They currently sit 1/2 game ahead of Phoenix for the last playoff spot in the Western Conference. They have won four of their last five games and are on a two game winning streak. Before beating the Bobcats on Saturday (111-89), the streak started with an impressive win in Chicago (85-77). The Grizzlies have found balance in the returns of Marc Gasol and Tony Allen and that has been a major contributor to their success. Prior to the Bobcats game, the Grizzlies had been lead in scoring by seven different players in the previous seven games. That’s almost unheard of in the NBA. They will look for balanced scoring again tonight as they host the Trail Blazers who are 15th in defensive rating.
Portland Trail Blazers:
- Joel Freeland will be out with a sprained MCL. As David MacKay wrote this morning, it seems as though Freeland will return before the end of the regular season.
- Quincy Pondexter is out for the season after he was diagnosed with a stress fracture in his right foot.
Keys To The Game
LaMarcus Aldridge vs. Zach Randolph. Aldridge has started to round back into form over the last couple of games. Even though the last two games have been losses, you can’t put the entire blame on Aldridge. He is averaging 29 points and 14.5 rebounds over the last two. Memphis has been a thorn in his side throughout his career. In 24 career meetings against Memphis, Aldridge is averaging 15.9 points and 6.9 rebounds. That is his lowest point average and second lowest rebounding average against any team! He did have 27 points in the first meeting this season and will need to continue his high scoring efforts tonight. Zach Randolph loves to play against his former team. Especially when they play in Portland. As mentioned, Randolph had 23 points and 10 rebounds in the first match-up. He has played two games since sitting out against the Nets with the flu and has been solid. Randolph is averaging 17.1 points and 10.3 rebounds on the season. Randolph and Aldridge will most likely be the highlight match-up tonight.
Turnovers. If it’s not one thing that causes the Trail Blazers to lose, it’s another. I mentioned the shaky fourth quarter performances but lately, turnovers have been the main component in their losses. The Trail Blazers committed a season-high-tying 21 turnovers against the Rockets. They are tied for eighth fewest in the league on the season with 13.6 turnovers. The last four games have been a completely different story as the Trail Blazers have averaged 19 turnovers. Avoiding turnovers will be key for the Trail Blazers tonight, especially during important junctions in the game.
Avoid The Road Trip Slip. This will be the third game in a five game road trip for the Trail Blazers. They have already lost the first two so it will be important that they win this middle game. Tonight’s game is also the first in a back-to-back with the team traveling to San Antonio tomorrow. In the first games of back-to-backs this season, the Trail Blazers are 11-5. We will see how much the disastrous nature of the last two games will effect the Trail Blazers focus and preparation tonight. If they can focus on limiting the turnovers, getting solid minutes from the bench, and avoiding the late game slide, they should be able to start the difficult back-to-back with a win.