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

Blazers: 51-31 (fourth place in Western Conference)
Grizzlies: 55-27 (fifth place in Western Conference)
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.
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).


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.


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.

Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger says Mike Conley and Tony Allen still too injured for playoff action


The Western Conference playoffs might not be the gauntlet we expected.

Sure, it’s still a very strong field, but it won’t be filled with eight dominant teams.

The Trail Blazers are stumbling with Wesley Matthews and maybe Dorell Wright out for the season and Arron Afflalo also sidelined. The Mavericks haven’t clicked with Rajon Rondo. The Thunder – if they even make it – aren’t a historically dangerous No. 8 seed without Kevin Durant (not to mention Serge Ibaka’s own injury troubles). The Pelicans would be a good, though hardly vaunted, No. 8 seed.

And the Grizzlies’ starters haven’t thrived with Jeff Green. Another problem in Memphis: Injuries to Mike Conley and Tony Allen.

Ronald Tilley of The Commercial Appeal:

If Conley (foot) and Allen (hamstring) can’t play or even are significantly limited, it’s very difficult to see the Grizzlies winning a series.

Conley is a near-All-Star who steadies them on both ends, and Allen is a defensive force. No combination of Courtney Lee, Beno Udrih, Nick Calathes and Vince Carter can match those two.

Memphis, after playing the Pacers tonight, will begin postseason play Saturday or Sunday. Is that enough time for Conley and Allen to recover? It’s a huge question for the Grizzlies’ playoff chances.

Blazers lose Nicolas Batum and C.J. McCollum to injuries in loss to Thunder (VIDEO)


The Thunder beat the Blazers on Monday night, keeping themselves alive in the race for the eighth seed in the Western Conference. That part didn’t have much drama. But the Blazers suffered two more injuries to rotation players when they least afford them.

Nicolas Batum was helped off the court in the first quarter after suffering an apparent knee injury:

And C.J. McCollum suffered an ankle sprain in the second quarter:

The Blazers were already scraping for depth on the wing, with season-ending injuries to Wesley Matthews and Dorell Wright. Arron Afflalo is also out with a shoulder injury. McCollum had been playing well in increased minutes, so the Blazers have to hope this injury isn’t serious. Otherwise, they’re going to have virtually no depth and hope that the likes of Allen Crabbe and Tim Frazier can suffice against the Clippers, Rockets or Grizzlies. (Spoiler alert: that’s unlikely.)

More wing injuries for Trail Blazers: Dorell Wright breaks hand

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The Trail Blazers took a major blow when Wesley Matthews suffered a season-ending injury.

Arron Afflalo slid into the starting lineup, a downgrade but not necessarily a huge one. The bigger issue: Portland’s reserves became considerably weaker without Afflalo.

The Trail Blazers are just 7-6 without Matthews, though they’ve won four straight.

But just as they might be figuring things out, Dorell Wright gets hurt.

Peter Socotch of CSN Northwest:

Trail Blazers forward Dorell Wright fractured the fourth metacarpal in his left hand in Wednesday night’s 126-122 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers, the Trail Blazers announced.

X-Rays confirmed the fracture and the timetable for Wright’s return remains indefinite.

Healing time on this type of injury is anywhere from 4-6 weeks, but other measures can allow for increased mobilization, which is why there has not been a determined timetable for Wright’s return from injury.

Pain from this type of injury is generally very mild, according to these same medical journals, and does not require heavy medication outside of ibuprofen or acetaminophen.

Jabari Young of CSN Northwest:

This is the LaMarcus Aldridge effect.

Aldridge had a tear in his thumb expected to keep him out 6-to-8 weeks, but he returned just a few days latereven though that could adversely affect him long-term.

Portland had a chance to win a title with Matthews, and the team could still make major noise in the playoffs if everything breaks right. These players are committed to maximizing the chances of that happening.

If Wright misses time, expect Alonzo Gee and Allen Crabbe to play more. C.J. McCollum could also see more time in three-guard lineups.

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Wesley Matthews’ injury will test Trail Blazers’ spacing


Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge are unquestionably the Trail Blazers’ biggest stars.

But we’re going to see just how pivotal Wesley Mathews is to Portland, especially its impressive offensive spacing.

The shooting guard ruptured his Achilles tendon last night, ending his season.

Matthews might not belong in the elite class of 3-point shooters with Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Kyle Korver. But Matthews is the best outside shooter outside that top tier. Only he, Curry and Korver have shot above 38 percent 3-pointers while making at least one per game each of the last five seasons.

Matthews is nearly as reliable as it gets from beyond the arc.

And for Portland, he’s the only player who comes close to fitting that description.

There are 81 players in the NBA who’ve played at least 20 games, made at least one 3-pointer per game and are shooting at least league average (34.7 percent) from downtown. Matthews is the only Trail Blazer.


Despite this, Portland ranks 10th in points per possession.

The Trail Blazers don’t offensively rebound particularly well, and they’re even worse at getting to the free-throw line. They just spread the floor so they can pass cleanly and make open shots.

To do that, they needed Matthews to draw defenders to the perimeter.

The only other other teams with only one player on the above list – Nuggets (24th in points per possession), Timberwolves (26th), Knicks (29th) and Jazz (15th) – have struggled to form quality offenses with so few traditional floor spacers. Even teams with two players on the list – Celtics (21st), Nets (22nd), Hornets (28th), Pacers (25th) and Grizzlies (11th) – have mostly struggled offensively.

And now Portland proceeds with no healthy qualifying players.

Terry Stotts has his work cut out to overcome that disadvantage, but his task is not impossible.

Matthews was just one piece of the floor-spacing puzzle.

Aldridge is an elite mid-range shooter. What Lillard lacks in efficiency on 3-pointers (a very reasonable 33.9 percent) he more than makes up for in volume (2.4 makes per game). Nicolas Batum is a skilled playmaker. Robin Lopez sets excellent screens, springing others free.

And Mathews’ certain replacement in the starting lineup, Arron Afflalo (1.5 3-pointers made per game, 34.0 3-point percentage this season), can play a similar role to his predecessor. Afflalo’s outside shooting has disturbingly fluctuated the last few years, but he has more good seasons than bad under his belt.

Solid 3-point shooters Steve Blake (0.9, 34.6) and Dorell Wright (0.8, 37.8) could also play more. Lineups featuring Blake and Lillard have fared particularly well offensively, as the point guards provide 3-point shooting and ball movement.

Several factors have contributed to Portland’s floor spacing. Matthews’ 3-point shooting is only one, but a big one. Unfortunately, we’ll find out just how big.