The Memphis Grizzlies took a nearly-elite defense in the Charlotte Bobcats (No. 5 in points allowed, No. 6 in defensive rating) and crushed them 111-89 on Saturday in Memphis. Next up, they’ll get their opportunity to face an elite offense in the Portland Trail Blazers, at home on Tuesday night.
This is an interesting game on a number of different levels, as the two teams could find themselves facing off in a second-round series and the matchups are terrific. Let’s take a look at three keys for the Grizzlies upcoming litmus test against the Trail Blazers.
Key No. 1: Contain Damian Lillard
Easier said than done, but Lillard isn’t on a hot streak right now. Over his last six games (Blazers 3-3 during that stretch), Lillard is averaging 15.7 points, 3.7 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.2 steals in 32.1 minutes per game. He’s shooting 46.7 percent from the field, 34.4 percent from the 3-point line and 81.3 percent from the foul line.
By no means are those numbers terrible, but they’re not what we’ve come to expect from Lillard. Over the five games previous to these six “cold” games, he averaged 28.6 points, 3.2 rebounds and 6.4 assists, with a shooting line of .515/.469/.897.
Mike Conley, Tony Allen and the other perimeter defenders will have their hands full, but keeping Lillard as simply average will go a long way towards securing a victory. It sounds simple, but getting Lillard into uncomfortable situations goes a long way. Lillard is shooting just 27.8 percent from 3-to-10 feet. Forcing him there is a big key.
Key No. 2: Control the Defensive Glass
The Blazers aren’t deep in the frontcourt, but LaMarcus Aldridge and Robin Lopez can stand up to just about any other tandem in the NBA…except the Grizzlies’ Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol. The Blazers are the NBA’s No. 1 rebounding team, they are No. 2 in offensive rebounding percentage and they’re No. 14 in defensive rebounding.
By contrast, the Grizzlies are No. 21 in total rebounds, but they are No. 7 in defensive rebounding percentage. One of the hallmarks of any good defensive team is the ability to finish possessions. What’s the last part of a successful defensive possession? Securing the ball, of course.
Randolph and Gasol are going to have their hands full keeping the Blazers off the offensive glass. In the Blazers last game (against the Houston Rockets), they rolled up 22 offensive rebounds, a season-high for them. Nicolas Batum led the team with five, with Aldridge, Lopez and Thomas Robinson adding four.
Key No. 3: Limit Easy Points
How do you score the second-most points in the league with the No. 10 pace? You get easy points — lots of them. The Blazers have made the second-most 3-pointers and are the No. 1 team in the NBA in free-throw percentage (.821).
The Blazers’ top-six scorers are all better than 81 percent foul shooters. Late in games, who are you going to foul? Their entire starting lineup can shoot. Three of them (Lillard, Wesley Matthews, Batum) have made 104 or more 3-pointers as well.
Similar to how the Grizzlies need to put Lillard in his worst positions, the Grizzlies need to keep the Blazers from their strengths. They’ll need to run them off the 3-point line, while playing strong, fundamental defense at the rim. If they can do that, they’ll pull out a statement win over Portland on Tuesday night.
Tags: Memphis Grizzlies