A few months ago, if you had told me that we were going to have a Memphis Grizzlies and Portland Trail Blazers matchup in the first round of the playoffs, I would’ve been beyond ecstatic. Both teams seemed to have a great chance at ending up the number two seed in the West, and through midseason trades, only seemed to get stronger.
Then, as fate would have it, injuries struck. Memphis found themselves beat up enough to fall down in the standings a bit, and Portland appeared to lose LaMarcus Aldridge for the season. Fortunately for them, like some kind of sick Superman, Aldridge was able to use the injury to fuel his play to new levels, but, unfortunately for them, the injuries didn’t stop there. Now, the Grizzlies are simply less than 100% while the Blazers are missing key pieces, namely Wesley Matthews. Matthews’ impact is huge on both sides of the ball, and I expect that his absence will be painfully apparent all season long.
Key to the Series
Guard play – The Grizzlies are really banged up at the guard slots with both Mike Conley and Tony Allen nursing injuries. While the Blazers don’t have Matthews, they do have Damian Lillard, and he’s capable of taking over a game at any time. If the guards for the Grizz aren’t paying at a level to where they can contain him, that could be a big problem down the stretch.
Matching the Grind – The Blazers are lacking a lot on defense at this point, but with the Grizzlies having a less-than-incredible offense, that may not be as huge of a problem as it would seem. What the Blazers do have to do is play defense on a level where the Grizz aren’t scoring at a much higher clip than they did during the regular season.
Who else? Let’s be real, not only is Vince one of the most exciting players to ever play the game, but he’s also one of the most clutch. We’ve seen time and time and time again how he can step up when it counts. Lillard gets all the hype for his fourth quarter heroics, and you can bet that will play a factor in this series, but Vinsanity is the guy who can come off the bench and totally change the series with one lethal shot.
If the Blazers were healthy, this would likely be one of the most exciting series of the playoffs. As is, even though the Grizzlies are banged up, they’ve just got too much manpower for the battered Blazers to stand a chance. Lillard will take over down the stretch and win a game for Portland, but other than that, this is going to be all Grizz.
Grizzlies in 5