PBT First-Round Playoff Previews: Portland Trail Blazers vs. Memphis Grizzlies

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SEASON RECORDS
Blazers: 51-31 (fourth place in Western Conference)
Grizzlies: 55-27 (fifth place in Western Conference)
KEY INJURIES
Blazers: It would be easier to list who’s healthy. LaMarcus Aldridge’s thumb is probably fine but he missed two of the last three games with a left foot sprain. Nicolas Batum has a bruised knee and missed the season finale. C.J. McCollum has a left ankle sprain. Arron Afflalo will miss at least the first game with a right shoulder strain. And that’s before you get to the season-ending injuries to Dorell Wright and Wesley Matthews.
Grizzlies: Marc Gasol (ankle) and Mike Conley (foot) are banged up. Courtney Lee is playing through a torn hand ligament. All should be available for the series opener but they’re worth keeping an eye on.
OFFENSE/DEFENSE RANKINGS
Blazers: 105.5 points scored per 100 possessions (8th in NBA); 101.4 points allowed per 100 possessions (10th in NBA).
Grizzlies: 103.1 points scored per 100 possessions (13th in NBA); 99.9 points allowed per 100 possessions (4th in NBA).

THREE KEYS TO THE SERIES

1) Will the Blazers find wing production? The loss of Matthews effectively killed Portland’s hopes of contending. The injuries to Wright and Afflalo don’t help. Beyond Batum and McCollum (who are dealing with minor injuries of their own), the Blazers are counting on a lot of production from the likes of Allen Crabbe, Alonzo Gee and Tim Frazier, which isn’t ideal to say the least. That’s all the more pressure on Damian Lillard to have another heroic series like last year’s first-round matchup with Houston.

2) Can the Grizzlies get anything on the perimeter? We say this every year, and you’d think they would have done something about it by now, but there’s no reliable outside shooting anywhere on Memphis’ roster. Jeff Green has shot 36 percent from three since being traded to the Grizzlies, and their two best three-point threats, Conley and Lee, are playing through injuries. The Grizzlies will have to do all of their damage in the paint, which, luckily for them, they’re perfectly equipped to do.

3) How far can Aldridge and Lillard carry the Blazers? With Matthews gone, the Blazers’ two superstars are going to have more defensive attention on them than ever. Memphis can put Tony Allen on Lillard and Zach Randolph on Aldridge. With Aldridge’s thumb injury, a matchup with Randolph can’t be something he’s looking forward to, but unless one of the unknown role players steps up, it’s going to be a two-man job.

PREDICTION

This is going to be a hard-fought series with terrific home crowds in both cities. But between Memphis’ home-court advantage and the Blazers’ litany of injuries, I have to think the Grizzlies will prevail. I’m picking Grizzlies in 6 but I don’t feel great about it.

Wembanyama encore: 36 points, 11 rebounds, 4 blocks against Ignite

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Victor Wembanyama is for real.

And I don’t mean real tall, although he is that, too. Check out this image of him next to Rudy Gobert, who is a legit 7’1″.

Wembanyama is for real like a genuine generational talent — in his second game against the G-League Ignite he had 36 points, 11 rebounds, and four blocked shots.

That comes off his 37-point performance in the first meeting where he hit 7-of-11 3-pointers and had five blocks.

To be clear: That is 73 points, 15 rebounds, nine blocks, shooting 9-of-18 from 3 (and 22-of-44 overall) across two games against a good talent level. And he is 18 years old.

Everyone in and around the NBA has been trying to come up with player comps — Kristaps Porzingis, Ralph Sampson, Tim Duncan — but the reality is Wembanyama is one of one.

Scoot Henderson — the G-League guard projected as the No. 2 pick in the 2023 NBA Draft — played just five minutes in this game after bumping his knee while guarding Wembanyama. He was taken out of the game and X-rays found a bone bruise, he did not return. He is officially day-to-day the team announced.

Wembanyama and his Metropolitans 92 got the win in this rematch, 112-106.

Draymond Green not expected to miss any games, Warriors to handle discipline ‘internally’

2022 NBA Summer League - Golden State Warriors v New York Knicks
Ethan Miller/Getty Images
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Draymond Green is not expected to miss any games for punching teammate Jordan Poole during an altercation during practice, Warriors GM Bob Myers said Thursday.

That’s not to say he is escaping any punishment, it will just be handled internally, Myers said.

Green showed up at Chase Center and apologized to the team and then left, he did not practice with the Warriors, reports Monte Poole of NBC Sports Bay Area.

“Draymond apologized to the team this morning, Jordan was there in the room, I was there in room with the team, the coaches, the players and we heard that,” Myers said.

Whatever punishment the Warriors are handing down to Green, it will not include missing games, Myers said.

Coach Steve Kerr added, “I expect [Green] to return on Saturday and get back at it.” That implies a couple of days suspension, likely with a hefty fine.

Kerr was also quick to shoot down the rumors of Poole having an “attitude” around camp as he comes up on a massive contract extension. Stephen Curry echoed that, saying those reports are “absolute BS.”

The Warriors have seen their fair share of Draymond Green incidents over the years, and as a locker room and franchise they know how to move on from it. While this made headlines, the Warriors will shrug it off and move on.

Miami, Milwaukee have their eyes on Jae Crowder

NBA 2022 Playoffs - Phoenix Suns v Dallas Mavericks
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The Heat and Bucks don’t just have interest in the same player. They’re looking to replace the same player.

Two years ago, P.J. Tucker helped Milwaukee win their first championship in a half-century. Last season, he helped Miami lock up the top seed in the East and make the Conference Finals.

With Tucker in Philadelphia, both the Heat and Bucks are looking to fill the void with a different lockdown enforcer that can stretch the floor.

Jae Crowder and the Suns agreed that he won’t participate in practice as the team looks to accommodate his trade request. In a recent ESPN+ article, Zach Lowe made it clear that both Miami and Milwaukee are interested in pursuing a trade for Crowder.

“The Bucks have internal interest in Crowder as that Tucker replacement after getting into the recent Jerami Grant and Bojan Bogdanovic discussions, sources say. They will search all season for one more piece.

“The Heat have interest in Crowder too, sources say, but finding matching salary is tough until Dewayne Dedmon, Caleb Martin and Victor Oladipo become trade-eligible in the winter. Martin might start, and the Heat are optimistic Oladipo can play a huge role.”

Grant and Bogdanovic were traded to Portland and Detroit, respectively. The Heat may struggle to find a trade that works since Phoenix probably won’t want to take on Duncan Robinson’s contract. Dedmon, Martin and Oladipo will become trade eligible on January 15th.

Crowder has a history with the Heat, as he helped them make the NBA Finals in the bubble. He helped Phoenix make the NBA Finals two seasons ago and then helped them finish with the best record in the NBA last season.

LeBron says Wembanyama is an ‘alien’ and a ‘generational talent’

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There was a time when LeBron James was the “it” kid coming for the NBA — a freakish athlete like nobody in the league had seen. A player the size of Karl Malone with the quickness and skills of an elite point guard.

Now the “it” guy is Victor Wembanyama, the 7’4″ mold-breaking big out of France — and LeBron is impressed.

“Everybody’s been a unicorn over the last few years, well he’s more like an alien,” LeBron said after the Lakers’ preseason loss to the Suns in Las Vegas. “I’ve never seen, no one’s ever seen anyone as tall as he is, but it’s fluid and as graceful as on the floor…

“His ability to put the ball on the floor, shoot step-back jumpers on the post, step-back 3s, catch-and-shoot 3s, block shots. He’s for sure a generational talent. And hopefully he continues to stay healthy, that’s the most important for him personally, and as you could tell he loves the game. He was smiling a lot while playing the game last night. I think it was the two best players in the draft on the floor last night and they both did their thing.”

Wembanyama is projected to be the No.1 pick in the 2023 NBA Draft, just ahead of point guard Scoot Henerson, who scored 28 points with nine assists of his own leading his G-League Ignite to a win over Wembanyama’s Metropolitans 92. Wembanyama scored 37 points in the game, hit 7-of-11 shots from 3, had five blocks and a few other shots changed because of his length (7’11” wingspan) and the threat of his block.

Wembanyama and Henderson face off again tonight in a second game between the Ignite and Metropolitans 92 just outside Las Vegas in Henderson (9:30 p.m. ET on NBATV).

Wembanyama will play, with his agent telling ESPN there are no plans to shut the No.1 pick down to avoid injury and protect his draft status. “He’ll never agree to that. He wants to compete and get better,” Bouna Ndiaye said.

LeBron looked back on his time as the “it” player and said simply, “thank got there wasn’t social media” at the time. It’s a different world now, but game still recognizes game.

And LeBron recognizes it in Wembanyama.