Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Trail Blazers @ Grizzlies: Game 8

The most critical game during a long road trip? The first one. Portland can come out tonight and set the tone for the remaining four games on the road by putting Memphis away early and often. On paper this looks like a no-brainer. The Blazers should run circles around the Iverson-less Grizz, but as history shows us, Portland never has an easy night in Memphis. In fact, it has taken two huge clutch shots from Travis in the past two years to walk out victorious. Although, if the Trail Blazers can get off to a quick lead and just weather the storm against a couple Grizzlies' runs, Memphis will quit midway through the 3rd quarter, because that is the mental makeup of this franchise.
There are two major keys to getting a win tonight. First and foremost is to contain Zach Randolph. Ever since we sent him packing him out of town in 2007, he always seems to haunt us. We all remember the Clipper game last December as the game where Steve Blake missed all those free throws down the stretch, but what many forget is that Zach had 38 points and 11 rebounds on 50% shooting from the field. We all know Z-Bo can shoot you out of games and he doesn't always bring the best intensity on defense, but when he is on, he is a load to control down low. Sometimes Aldridge doesn't get down and dirty in the paint, but he will definitely have to mix it up tonight battling Zach on the glass, especially fighting to keep him from grabbing those offensive boards.
The second key is intensity and focus. It can be very tempting to walk into a half empty arena and think the other team is just going to roll over and wave the white flag, because you are the Trail Blazers. The times Portland has struggled on the road against inferior teams have came when they weren't sharp mentally. When this happens and Memphis starts to play well, they gain confidence, and think they can play with you the rest of the game. Attack the hoop at will, get the Grizz bigs in early foul trouble, and push tempo are all ways the Blazers can negate a slow start and inflict early doubt upon the Grizz.
I believe these last two wins at home will roll over to the road tonight. Memphis is already in early turmoil, mainly due to the Allen Iverson fiasco, and this is where the added leadership and experience of Andre Miller and Juwan Howard will start to appear on the box score. Memphis will keep it close for the first half, but Portland will start to pull away with the depth of their bench. I am expecting another hot shooting night for Travis as he always loves to play well in front of family and Andre Miller will continue to run the show with the brilliance we all envisioned when he was inked in July.
Game 8 Prediction: Trail Blazers 103 Grizzlies 91
Post-Game Thoughts
Although it looked sloppy at times and the Grizzlies weren't put away until mid-way through the 4th quarter, the Trail Blazers played just good enough to walk out of Memphis for their 8th straight victory over the Grizzlies. The two keys to the game were to contain Zach Randolph and bring the intensity and focus. The Blazer bigs most definitely did a commendable job battling with Zach all night. He did bring in 12 boards, but he wasn't constantly keeping possessions alive for Memphis and he was forced into a 5-14 shooting performance. I don't totally think the intensity or focus was there 100% completely in the 1st half as we saw numerous turnovers, but the tomahawk throwdown over Rudy Gay by Travis Outlaw toward the end of the 2nd quarter really seemed to spark the fire.
Lets not kid ourselves though, Greg Oden was the main reason we were able to not only pull away from Memphis with a 14-1 run in the 3rd, but the reason we won the game. After only playing 4 minutes in the first half due to 2 quick fouls, G.O. was again a presence in the paint on both ends of the court. If he wasn't turning and dunking over Zach, he was dropping dimes out of the post like he was channeling his inner Arvydas Sabonis. It has become very apparent that playing with Andre Miller is doing wonders for Oden's game. Anyone else love that lob on the fast break? When we get the big fella involved on offense, he brings it that much harder on the defensive end, and added another 2 blocks to his top 5 average last night.
As great as it always is watching the evolution of Greg Oden, it was almost more satisfying seeing LaMarcus get involved early and often and they weren't all courtesy of the jump shot. He worked hard to get solid post position and was hitting the turn around at will, shooting a staggering 7-12 from the field and being the early offense any team desperately needs to survive out on the road. Most impressive of all was his willingness to bang inside with the likes of Gasol and Randolph. En route to 12 boards, he was the guy boxing out Zach, making sure he didn't get his paws on offensive boards and opening up the paint for Joel, Greg, Travis, and Martell to go get it and start the break.
Box Score

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