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Trail Blazers Start Three-Game Trip In Memphis

03/06/13
  1. Written by: erikgundersen  / avg. rating: 5.0

    BY ERIK GUNDERSEN

    The Portland Trail Blazers (28-31) start their three-game road trip on Wednesday night in Memphis as they face the hot Grizzlies (39-19). Memphis has won nine of their last 10 with their only loss in that stretch coming at Miami. Tip-off is scheduled for 5 PM at the FedEx Forum in Memphis and it will be shown on CSNNW and can be heard on 1190 AM and 102.3 FM.

        •    The previous and only match-up between these two teams earlier this season was one of the Trail Blazers most memorable wins this season. The Trail Blazers eventually prevailed in an 86-84 slugfest which featured a total of 26 points in the fourth quarter. It was a game that favored the Grizzlies preferred style of play but the Trail Blazers out-grinded team "grit and grind." LaMarcus Aldridge anchored the defense with five blocks, 12 rebounds along with 15 points. Nicolas Batum forced Rudy Gay (now on Toronto) into a bad shot at the end of regulation to seal the win. Wesley Matthews scored 21 points including 11 points in the third quarter to help get the Trail Blazers going. Marc Gasol put on a dominant defensive performance with eight blocks for the Grizzlies but the Trail Blazers were able to make the winning plays at the end. The Grizzlies were without Zach Randolph, but Marreese Speights (now in Cleveland) brought Z-Bo level production, scoring 22 points and grabbing 13 rebounds in only 26 minutes. The Grizzlies put their entire defensive focus on Damian Lillard, trapping him high in his pick and rolls and not allowing him to get any room to get off his three-point shots. He only shot four and made one on his way to 11 points and eight assists and the perimeter shooting from Batum and Matthews, eight for 16 combined, helped the Trail Blazers have enough offense to get the win. In addition to Batum and Matthews pouring it in from deep, JJ Hickson was a beast for the Trail Blazers scoring 19 points and grabbing 11 rebounds.
     
       •    This game is going to be the same in some ways and different in other ways. First of all, Zach Randolph, who averages 15.7 points and 11.6 rebounds per game will be playing. Also, the Grizzlies will be without Gay, who was traded to Toronto on January 31st as well as Speights. Since the trade of Gay, which ruffled plenty of feathers in Memphis as many players and even their head coach expressed dismay in losing someone whom they thought was a key to their identity, the Grizzlies have been a statistically better team. Since trading Gay, the Grizzlies have gone 10-4 over their last 14 games. In those 14 games, the Grizzlies have managed to maintain their elite defense but also improve slightly on the offensive end, as they are scoring two points per 100 possessions better since the trade, going from bad to almost league average on that end. In addition to that, the Grizzlies are shooting better as their team's effective field goal percentage (a stat that takes into account the extra value of three pointers) has gone up from 46.3 percent to 48.4 percent. So, despite the fact they lost someone who has made big shots in the past, it seems that at least  in the first 14 games, the trade has worked out well and the team has actually improved and their recent string of wins is a product of that.
       
    •    The Trail Blazers were able to integrate their newest member and also find some semblance of continuity off the bench since acquiring Eric Maynor. The Trail Blazers are 3-1 in games that Maynor has played in since he was traded and in those games, it seems that the Trail Blazers are starting to discover something of a second unit and rotation. Maynor, along with Meyers Leonard and Victor Claver coming in off the bench has become the norm, at least for now. Leonard in particular is turning heads with his fantastic play. Leonard is averaging 10.8 points in the four games he has played with Maynor since his arrival and he is also rebounding well, grabbing 20.7 percent of all available rebounds while he is on the floor, a very good rate. Portland's bench has enjoyed a lot of success, but a lot of that success has come against either weak (the Bobcats) or depleted (Minnesota) competition. Wesley Matthews said after their win against the Bobcats that "it's not going to be like that," against Memphis and that the Trail Blazers must bring their defense. But what will be just as important as taking a stand on defense will be seeing whether the Trail Blazers don't just have a unit that can play well against weak opposition, but also a unit that can travel. If the Trail Blazers have a chance of stringing wins together to make their playoff hopes more realistic ones, finding a consistent bench unit that they can count on will be key to that.

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