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.

Clippers stun Warriors by forcing rare Game 6

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The Warriors feel inevitable.

So, when the Clippers let a 15-point second-half lead dwindle away in the final minutes, the game and series appeared over.

Instead, Lou Williams responded with a personal 8-0 – including a four-point play – run that sparked L.A. to a 129-121 Game 5 win Wednesday. The last two teams to lose a home Game 5 while leading a series 3-1:

  • 2019 Warriors vs. Clippers
  • 2016 Warriors vs. Cavaliers

Golden State will try to avoid any more comparisons to those 2016 NBA Finals in Game 6 Friday. The Warriors have won both their games in L.A. in this series, but have dropped two in Oakland – more home losses than they had the previous two postseasons combined.

The Rockets took care of business earlier in the night, but Golden State didn’t clinch its place in the anticipated rematch. The Clippers just aren’t making it easy.

“It’s a little mix of arrogance and just hard work,” said Williams, who scored 33 points and dished 10 assists. “We have a lot of young guys. We have a lot of veterans, guys that want to prove their names. We were wrote off early on in the year, people saying we weren’t a good team. We take all of those things. We digest it, and we try to make as much as we can out of it. So, it’s shown in this series.”

These Clippers have such an awesome identity.

They easily could have cherished their 31-point comeback in Game 2 as their moment of the series. But they kept fighting.

Patrick Beverley (17 points, 14 rebounds and four assists) was everywhere. Montrezl Harrell (24 points on 11-of-14 shooting with a clutch block) controlled the paint. Danilo Gallinari (26 points) got rolling after a couple off games.

L.A. has already won more games (two) than anyone except Houston (which won three in last year’s Western conference finals) in a series against the Warriors since they added Kevin Durant.

Durant scored 45 tonight, but Golden State turned up its defensive intensity too late.

“Build from this game? This game sucked. We lost,” Klay Thompson said. “Let’s go win Friday. Let’s win big. Let’s freaking win by 30 like we’re capable of.”

Rockets set up rematch with Warriors

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Bring on the Warriors.

The Rockets did their part to set up a highly anticipated rematch by dispatching the Jazz 100-93 in Game 5 Wednesday. With a 4-1 series victory over Utah, Houston enters the second round to face the winner of Warriors-Clippers. Golden State leads 3-1 entering its own Game 5 tonight.

Houston pushed these Warriors harder than anyone has, falling just short in last year’s seven-game Western Conference finals. James Harden said he thinks about losing Games 6 and 7 every day.

Will the Rockets supplant Golden State this year?

Harden is better. Chris Paul is healthy. The Warriors – their veterans a year older, Kevin Durant‘s impending free agency causing more drama – look somewhat vulnerable.

But Golden State is still favored in the second-round series before even winning its first-round series. The Warriors have historic top-end talent, and that usually wins out in the playoffs.

It did for the Rockets against the Jazz.

Harden (26 points, six rebounds, six assists, four blocks and three steals) and Paul (15 points, eight rebounds, five assists and three steals) weren’t great tonight. But they gave Houston enough considering Utah’s best player was Royce O'Neale (18 points on 8-of-13 shooting).

Donovan Mitchell (12 points on 4-of-22 shooting, including 0-for-9 on 3-pointers, with only one assist and five turnovers) had an awful game I doubt he’ll forget. His competitiveness and self-awareness are so impressive. I bet this only fuels him.

The Rockets are ready now.

They’ve won 24 of their last 29 games, going back to the regular season. They like to play a high-scoring style, but they’re versatile enough to adjust. P.J. Tucker and Clint Capela keyed a strong defensive performance tonight.

Houston probably won’t beat Golden State. But the Rockets have the opportunity they’ve desired for the last 332 days.

PBT Podcast: Looking ahead at the NBA playoffs second round

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Boston vs. Milwaukee. Philadelphia vs. Toronto. Houston vs. Golden State.

The first round of the NBA playoffs had plenty of emotion — just ask Damian Lillard and Russell Westbrook — but it was short, with very possibly only one series going at least six games.

The second round? That’s not going to be so quick, and it is filled with even matchups that present a lot of questions.

Is this the Rockets’ year? They have the formula, can they execute it? The Bucks were the best team in the regular season, but can they carry that elite level into the second round against Boston? Is Toronto the team to beat?

Keith Smith of Yahoo Sports/Real GM/Celticsblog to look ahead at the second round, and even talk a little about what is next for Oklahoma City.

As always, you can check out the podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out the NBC Sports Podcast homepage and archive at Art19.

We want your questions for future podcasts, and your comments, so please email us at PBTpodcast@gmail.com.

Sebastian Telfair convicted on gun charge, faces up to 15 years in prison

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Sebastian Telfair – a high school phenom from Coney Island, N.Y. – was the No. 13 pick in the 2004 NBA draft. He never lived up to the hype, but he still stuck in the NBA for 10 seasons, with the Trail Blazers, Timberwolves, Suns, Celtics, Clippers, Thunder, Raptors and Cavaliers.

He got arrested in 2017 for gun crimes and just his lost his trial.

TMZ:

Sebastian Telfair has been convicted of possessing a firearm … and could be sentenced to 15 years in prison.

Don’t assume Telfair will get the maximum sentence, but this is a serious conviction and will likely carry a serious sentence.