April 1, 2018, 1:42 pm
OPPONENT: Memphis Grizzlies
RECORD: 21-55 (6-31 on road, 3-7 last 10 games)
MEASUREABLES: 101.7 offensive rating (27th), 107.8 defensive rating (20th), -6.1 net rating (27th)
WHEN, WHERE, HOW TO WATCH: 9:00 EST, Moda Center (Portland), NBC Sports Northwest/FOX Sports Southeast
The Memphis Grizzles don’t actually want to beat the Portland Trail Blazers on Sunday. That was true a few days ago, too, when interim coach Bernie Bickerstaff benched Marc Gasol for the final 18 minutes of his tanking team’s victory over Portland, which was playing without Damian Lillard. Fortunately for the Blazers, that embarrassing loss didn’t affect them in the standings. They will clinch a playoff berth with just one more victory, and are three games ahead of the San Antonio Spurs in the loss column for third place in the Western Conference with six games left to play.
Wins over the Oklahoma City Thunder, New Orleans Pelicans and Los Angeles Clippers in the past seven days mitigated the tangible impact of losing to Memphis, and so did the relative struggles of those and other teams fighting for postseason eligibility and positioning. Portland, at 7-3 in its last 10 games, has as good a recent record as any of its sub-contending competition out west. Still, don’t tell the Blazers that Sunday’s matchup with the Grizzlies is about anything more than exacting revenge on a team that had no business beating them.
“We have to get Memphis back for that one,” Zach Collins said. “We felt like we shouldn’t have lost that game at Memphis. We should have finished that road trip strong.”
Doing so shouldn’t prove as difficult for Portland as defeating Memphis on its home floor was Wednesday. The sweeping influence of Lillard’s presence is the biggest reason why, but hardly the only one. The well-rested Blazers are playing from the friendly confines of Moda Center this time around, after previously visiting FedExForum on the second half of back-to-back and finale of a quick three-game road trip. The Grizzlies are even more short-handed: Chandler Parsons, who turned back the clock to score 15 points in 19 minutes the last time these teams met, is resting on Sunday, and Gasol will likely be given the day off, too.
Then there’s the simple matter of luck to consider. In a make-or-miss league, 10-day signee MarShon Brooks made four off-dribble 3-pointers over the final six minutes of Memphis’ 108-103 win. Portland, meanwhile, went 8-of-30 from beyond the arc and 23-of-51 on uncontested shots, per NBA.com/stats. The Blazers are due to break out of a jump-shooting rut, basically, and the Grizzlies certainly can’t count on Brooks to again lead a relative barrage of 13 made triples.
Portland is the better team, playing at home and has the incentive of becoming just the third team in the Western Conference to clinch a playoff berth. This game should be a celebration, not an opportunity for more disappointment, and the Blazers seem to know it.
“We were up seven points with five minutes left and lost,” C.J. McCollum said of his team’s loss to Memphis last week. “But credit [the Grizzlies]. They fought back and took the game from us. We have to be ready to compete and come out here and make the statement.”