Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Trail Blazers vs. Grizzlies: Game 37

Portland (22-14) returns home after a short stint away from the Rose City seeking revenge on the Memphis Grizzlies (16-16) after they embarrassed the Trail Blazers back on the 27th of November 106-96. There's a little bit of good news/bad news for the Trail Blazers tonight on the injury front. Just a few minutes ago, it was released that LaMarcus Aldridge is probable (left ankle sprain), but Steve Blake is listed as out (pneumonia). This game is huge, as is every game when you are fighting for a playoff position with an injury-riddled roster, but more so when you consider the next four home games are against the Lakers, Cavaliers, Bucks, and Orlando followed by a four-game Eastern swing.
Memphis rolls into Portland winners of 6 of their last 7 games, including an absolutely dominating performance over the Phoenix Suns, in Phoenix, 128-103. Their only loss in that span was a 5 point defeat at the hands of the Mavericks, in Dallas, 106-101. If it wasn't bad enough that Memphis heads into this match-up red-hot, they have also been in Portland since Sunday night, waiting on the Trail Blazers as Portland was finishing up in Los Angeles late last night. For Portland to avenge their humiliating loss back in November, which saw Memphis take off on a 31-2 run, they must find some way to defend the paint. Zach Randolph has found it, to the tune of 23.6 points per game and an amazing 14.2 rebounds a night in the month of December. Not only does Memphis possess Z-Bo as a low-post presence, but the lighter Marc Gasol is putting up 17.1 points and 10.9 rebounds a night over his past 10 games.
The main key to last night's game was to win the rebounding battle, which Portland lost badly, 38-29. If the same type of rebounding disparity occurs again tonight, the Blazers will be riding their first two-game losing streak since December 12th. The only blessing in disguise that has happened due to the injuries is the fact everyone knows their role on the team, which helps out the offense tremendously, so I'm not too worried about putting up points the rest of the year. The ongoing problem, at least until Nicolas comes back, will be defense. Just as I thought it would take 20+ assists to beat the Clippers on Wednesday night, if I look up at the end of the night and look at the Hustle Board, whomever wins those three combined categories (Rebounds, Steals, Blocks) will win the game.
Frankly, I'm going to be terrified of any game in which the opposition features great big man play, because we are so thin up front. On paper, this game looks like it should be signed, sealed, and delivered to the Memphis Grizzlies. They have already beat us here once already, are riding the hottest streak since 2005, and have the personnel to give our current team fits. But, it's a great thing they don't play games on paper. What we have, they don't: Brandon Roy. Look for Roy to bounce back in a big way tonight and lead his team to a gutty, nail-biting victory. It will be tight throughout the game, maybe even seeing the Grizz hold a double digit lead at some point in the game, but the resilient Blazers, behind the Rose Garden crowd, will get it done!
Game 37 Prediction: Trail Blazers 103 Grizzlies 102
Post-Game Thoughts
I said whichever team could win the hustle board would win the game, well in the end, it was all notched up at 46, which indicated how close of a game this was. The game played out almost to a tee. Portland and Memphis went neck and neck the entire way with Memphis gaining a 9 point lead early on in the 4th. Behind a furious Blazer rally, Portland actually lead by 8 with 3:45 left in the game after a Jerryd Bayless lay-in. Then it all went down hill. The Trail Blazers ended up scoring only 1 point in those final 3:45 minutes of game time, mostly due to getting entirely way to complacent at the end of the game. Roy would stand out top, work the shot clock down, then when nothing got going we were forced into taking difficult shots which allowed Memphis to creep back into the game.
The Grizzlies sealed the game at the free throw line after a controversial call saw OJ Mayo poke away the ball from Brandon Roy near half-court. As the two jostled for the ball, an official called Roy for an loose-ball foul, sending Mayo to the line. "You don't make that call that late," Portland coach Nate McMillan said. "I didn't see the contact. That's a big call late in the game, and minimal contact. That's a tough one."
"Of course we want it to go our way, but (Washington) made the call and I'm not going to complain, because he can't change it," Roy said. "He saw something, he made the call, and I just have to do a better job of protecting the ball."
That is the last attention I will bring to the officiating, because what's done is done and it is out of our hands. What's in our hands though, is not executing down the stretch and missing late-game free throws. It seems like year after year this happens to Blazer teams. I can recall just last season Portland blowing 8+ point leads with 3 minutes to go at least 3 times and all at home (Clippers, Magic, Cavaliers). I'm not sure what their mind set is, but it's as if they think the game is finished and they can just take a knee, so to speak, and the game is over. I know in terms of age this is a young team ,but experience wise, they are young no more. This is now a team with a true superstar, playoff experience, and used to winning, so there is no excuses to continue to wither away in the closing minutes.
What stings most about this loss, outside of getting swept at home by Memphis *shutters*, is the fact the rest of the month is brutal. Portland now faces the realization of battling 3 of the best 4 teams in the entire NBA all within their next 4 games and then heading East on a road trip immediately after. If we want to stay in this playoff chase, we most likely have to go 5-3 at the worst during this eight-game stretch.
I'm starting to think the Cinderella run we went on right after Joel went down could be over. With no Przy or Greg, we just have no way of controlling the boards or scoring in the paint. Zach had his way with us down low by totaling 27 points and 14 rebounds. When the offense wasn't running through Zach, Memphis would smartly dump it inside to Gasol, which forced a double team and they found the open man for the open shot time after time. It was a pick your poison type of defense for the Trail Blazers. Don't get me wrong though, I still love this team and the effort they are exerting on a nightly basis and think they could still make the playoffs, but sooner or later the talent gap up front is going to catch up to us.
Box Score

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