How They Got Here
For the Grizzlies, it was by the skin of their teeth. It was a bumpy ride the entire way in the bubble and Memphis couldn’t have cut it any closer. They made it to the play-in round despite a 2-6 record in the seeding games. They made it in despite poor shooting, poor decision making and poor game-planning.
It is understandable that the rotation came all out of wack once Memphis lost Jackson Jr, Jones and Winslow, but that must not serve as an excuse. With Jones out, the second unit found itself particularly affected. The Memphis bench became unable to outscore the opposing team’s second unit, rendering it a liability. The emergence of Grayson Allen might have stopped the leaking, but as teams gather more tape on Allen, they might very well more easily contain him going forward.
Portland blasted through the bubble and brawled its way into the play-in games. The out-shot every one in their path on the back on Damian Lillard. We all knew they would be a threat getting their two seven footers back in Nurkic and Collins. What we didn’t count on was the leap forward that Gary Trent Jr would take. Trent has always been a solid defender with great fundamentals, a Coach K calling sign if there ever was one. But his shooting has progressed immensely since the shut down and he has become a terror from downtown.
Espn gave Portland less than a 10% chance of making the playoffs before the season restart. It would been a great bet to make. Portland rolled through its eight matchups by leaning on their guard play.
How Both Teams Matchup
Advantage Portland. Let’s be realistic, there isn’t a single team in the league with a back court that can honestly say they can rival Portland’s. Lillard and McCollum are the premier guard tandem in the league and are unstoppable when healthy. What they lack in size on the defensive end, they make up in hustle. These are two dudes with a chip on their shoulder they’ve had since college.
Morant and Brooks aren’t too shabby themselves. To compete with Portland, they’ll have to keep their efficiency up. In order to do so, they’ll have to take good shots. I know, it sounds like the simplest thing to say, but God is it important for this team. The difference is night and day from when Brooks takes his normal shots to when he takes smart ones.
The blue print for Brooks is the game against the Bucks where he dropped 31 points on 12-18. What he changed was that he allowed his teammates to create good shots for him. He was a cutter instead of being a dribbler and the result was terrific. In the play-in game Portland will have to put Trent Jr on him and Brooks is just too big to handle. His frame will be a problem for anyone Portland can throw at him. As long as he allows Ja and others to find him on open cuts he will be successful. He cannot and must not revert to taking his wild shots early in the clock. If he does, it will be the downfall of his team.
The same goes for Morant as far as shot selection is concerned. Ja needs to understand that he is not helping his team when he takes shots from downtown. At some point he will develop that part of his game, but he just doesn’t have the range yet. For now, his teams is at its best when he goes downhill. Memphis’ offence becomes formidable when Morant goes ten toes down. He is fearless on drives and has body control akin to what a young Derrick Rose demonstrated. He can hang in the air and take his time to find open shooters, or guide lethal floater into the basket. Ja cannot let Portland’s defence get organised, he must be at their throat all game.
Advantage Memphis. Portland does have a great duo in Nurkic and Collins. Both are seven feet tall and can rebound. Nurcik is a menace in the paint and Collins can effectively spread the floor. Memphis has a few bodies they can throw at them. Valanciunas has been on a tear in the bubble and is more than able to handle Nurcik down low. He is just as physical and will be able to wear him down on the offensive side. Nurcik doesn’t have the footwork to hang with Valanciunas and Collins would simply be overpowered.
Tolliver is a veteran player with tricks up his sleeve. He will hang on the perimeter and force Collins to close out on him. This will free up the paint for Jonas and give him more room to work on Nurcik.
The x-factor in the front court is Brandon Clarke. I do not understand Jenkins’ reticence to put him in the starting lineup. He did have an off game when he did the last time, but there will be growing pains. What Clarke bring to the table is rebounding and pick and roll ability far beyond what Tolliver or Anderson can offer. Good luck trying to stop Clarke on a roll off a high screen for Morant. He’s getting to the rim. He’ll jump over you if he has to. The only player I can think of who might be able to stop him is prime Roy Hibbert. That one series against Chicago. That one series against Miami in 2013. Also, he can hit the occasional three pointer which will reveal itself to be essential against Portland.
Advantage Portland. Stotts has been at it for much longer than Jenkins. He knows his roster than Jenkins knows his and will not be afraid to experiment in case thing go wrong. Jenkins has not yet proven the ability to mix and match his assets. We understand that he is shorthanded at the moment, but he has been afraid to utilise his young players.
It is incomprehensive why Jenkins is so unwilling to play Konchar and Josh Jackson. It will become necessary in this series as he will have to throw the kitchen sink at Lillard and McCollum. Josh Jackson is a long athletic defender who is also comfortable with the ball in his hand. He also makes the right decision for more often that not. If Tyus Jones is still unavailable I would task Josh Jackson with conducting the second unit. The Grizzlies must not make the same mistakes the Suns made with Jackson and let him waste away on the bench. They need to give him a shot.