By Ian S Palmer
The Western Conference’s fourth -seeded Portland Trail Blazers meet the fifth-seeded Memphis Grizzlies in a best-of-seven first round NBA playoff series. Portland finished the season 51-31 after 54 wins and a playoff victory against the Houston Rockets last year and didn’t make too many offseason moves. GM Neil Olshey did strengthen the bench though by adding veterans Steve Blake and Chris Kaman. The Blazers went 26-7 to start the season with all-stars Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge leading the way and the league’s third-best defense when it came to points against per possession.
Portland Trail Blazers vs Memphis Grizzlies NBA Playoff Betting Preview – bet365 currently lists the Grizzlies as the favorites to win the series at 4/17 with the Trail Blazers at 13/14 to rebound after dropping the first game 100-86
The Blazers had the second-best record in the league on New Year’s Day, just half a game back of the Golden State Warriors. They struggled after that point though as center Robin Lopez broke his right hand and Aldridge suffered a thumb injury which he decided to play with. Things got worse in March when Wesley Matthews, the team’s top three-point shooter, tore his left Achilles tendon and was finished for the season. Matthews was replaced by veteran Arron Afflalo who was added at the trade deadline, but the defense really dropped off.
Portland was third best in the league for defensive efficiency with Matthews in the lineup, but then fell to 24th without him. Afflalo strained his right shoulder and he’s likely not going to be 100 per cent in the series against the Grizzlies. In addition, the Blazers could be missing Dorell Wright with a broken left hand while Aldridge, Batum, C.J. McCollum and Kaman are all nursing injuries. The Blazers struggled in the opening postseason encounter as the Grizzlies beat them 100-86 in Memphis to take a 1-0 series lead. Portland finished the season with the West’s sixth-best record, but they took the fourth seed because they won the Northwest Division.
Memphis had a 55-27 record on the season, which was better than Portland’s and have home-court advantage in the series. They added Vince Carter to the lineup this year after Mike Miller took off to Cleveland and had a pretty good season. They had the league’s fourth-best record early in January along with a top-10 ranked offense which was led by Marc Gasol and point guard Mike Conley. The Grizzlies shipped Tayshaun Green, Quincy Pondexter and a couple of draft choices out in a trade for small forward Jeff Green. The Grizzlies won 13 of 16 games when Green first came over and had the league’s third-best mark at the All-Star break.
A combination of things resulted in the team’s form dropping off after that and finished the final two months of the season just above .500. Gasol, Allen and Conley are all suffering minor injuries at the moment, but the squad’s in better shape than the Blazers. Memphis won all four games against Portland during the regular season and it’s now five in a row after taking the series’ opener. Depending on their health, the Grizzlies will likely go with Randolph, Gasol, Conley, Allen and Lee. Portland should counter with Batum, McCollum, Lillard, Lopez and Aldridge. Again, this depends on the players’ health. The key matchup in the series should be Lillard vs Conley and Randolph vs Aldridge.