Memphis Drops Shorthanded Blazers
Memphis is one of the best defensive teams in the NBA. They attack, they swarm, physically pound you, and they are relentless. You had better have an answer if you wish to stay in a game against them.
The Trail Blazers, missing over 35 points per game in their starting lineup with the absence of LaMarcus Aldridge and Nic Batum, just didn't have the firepower to keep up with this playoff-bound team. Their only chance was to bomb away from the outside and try and stay in the game with one of their favorite weapons, the three-point shot. They ended up going just 4 for 29 from behind the arc, and that was the end of that idea.
The Grizzlies took control of the game, and even when their lead was chopped to just seven points in the second half, easily responded to end Portland's hopes of a home win. Memphis won it's 51st game of the season, a franchise record, with its 94-76 win.
Memphis is heading to the playoffs, and has a chance to improve its standing in the Western Conference. Currently fifth in the race, they came into this game looking to get this important road trip off to a solid start. That would be all the motivation they would need.
The Trail Blazers, who started three rookies, and even play five rookies at the same time for stretches (like they did Monday in Utah), would have had to play an excellent game at both ends to pull the upset. Shooting just 41 percent, while allowing the Grizzlies to shoot 51 percent, just wasn't going to get it done.
The Grizzlies were led by Mike Conley, once again, who scored 20 points, on 7 for 11 shooting. He hit three bombs from behind the arc, one fewer than the Blazers hit as a team. Monday Conley hit the game winner against San Antonio with less than a second to play, and his production early ensured this game would not need any late-game drama.
The Blazers got 17 points each from Damian Lillard and JJ Hickson, but that wasn't enough. Wesley Matthews, who was coming off a strong game in Utah Monday, ended just 5 for 16 from the field, and the bench unit shot just 5 for 21.
Turnovers were also an issue, once again, for the Blazers. Like Monday in Salt Lake City, each time Portland would start to get a little rhythm offensively, the defense would create a turnover, and that would end the threat.
It doesn't get any easier (I realize I've used that phrase way too many times this season) on Friday, as the Houston Rockets visit the Rose Garden. It'll be yet another opponent headed for the playoffs, with a lot to gain from a victory on the road. That's just the way it'll be the rest of the season.
Aldridge told me in the hallway after the game that he's getting better, and I would guess he'll play in that game. I have no official word on this at all, but I'm guess Batum sits again. The other prediction, a pretty obvious one once again, is that if Portland doesn't shoot better than 41 percent, it'll be another long night.
Talk to you Friday.