The Memphis Grizzlies and the Portland Trail Blazers: an NBA rivalry as old as yesterday. After both teams secured victories in their eighth and final game in the NBA Restart, the two teams are now set to do battle in a play-in series to determine which squad will claim the 8-seed in the Western Conference.
It is no secret that the Grizzlies fared poorly in the bubble. After losing six of their first seven tries in Orlando, Memphis was put in a “win or go home” situation Thursday afternoon versus the Milwaukee Bucks.
It was a test that the Grizzlies passed with flying colors. Ja Morant and Jonas Valanciunas both finished with triple doubles – a feat that no teammates in the NBA had achieved this season. Dillon Brooks, who in his third season with the team might already be the most polarizing player in team history, had his best performance yet in the bubble.
My math could be wrong here but…
Did Ja Morant and Jonas Valanciunas just become the 10th pair of teammates to record triple-doubles in the same game, in NBA history?
— Kelcey Jordan Wright Johnson (@kelwright) August 13, 2020
The former Oregon Duck has been rightly accused of selfish play and reckless shot attempts throughout the season, but especially in the bubble. Brooks entered the Milwaukee game shooting just a hair over 40 percent from the floor in Orlando, but picked the perfect time for “Good Dillon Brooks” to rise from the ashes. He would finish the night with 31 points on a remarkable 12-of-18 from the floor in an outing that Grizzlies fans can only hope will get him going.
Portland enters the play-in series as the 8-seed. This means that the Grizzlies will have to beat the Trail Blazers twice in a row in order to advance to the playoffs where the Los Angeles Lakers await.
Portland point guard Damian Lillard has been the NBA’s best player since arriving in Orlando. After missing two pivotal free throws in a loss to the Clippers, Patrick Beverly and Paul George made the mistake of mocking Lillard on the Clippers’ bench.
In the three games following the loss to the Clippers, Dame D.O.L.L.A has scored 51, 61, and 42 points. He is on a war path and, unfortunately for the Grizzlies, they are standing in his way.
Damin Lillard’s since missing two free throws on Saturday:
21-43 three point
41-43 free throws
The Clippers have woke up a monster pic.twitter.com/KUUZDvAgYW
— Top Ball Coverage (@TopBallCoverage) August 14, 2020
Does Memphis have a shot at knocking off the Trail Blazers in back-to-back battles? Of course. Is it likely? Hell no.
The cards are stacked against the Grizzlies as the team continues to trudge forward without Jaren Jackson Jr. The Grizzlies’ power forward was arguably the most important piece to this Grizz team and that has become more and more evident in the games coming after his meniscus tear.
The Grizzlies’ depth is a major concern heading into a play-in series against one of the hottest scoring offenses in the league. Morant and Valanciunas are to be relied upon as steady double-figure scorers. Dillon Brooks will get his despite Grizzlies fans wanting to rip their hair out of their heads watching him chunk shots from Kingdom Come.
Where do the Grizzlies go to get their buckets behind those three? Grayson Allen has been a godsend off the bench for Memphis’ head coach Taylor Jenkins. Allen has proved to be a key contributor in the Grizzlies; second unit averaging over 12 PPG while shooting the three-ball at a 48-percent clip in the bubble.
Four guys can’t beat the Trail Blazers. The Grizzlies will need help offensively Kyle Anderson, Brandon Clarke, Anthony Tolliver, and De’Anthony Melton.
Tyus Jones is expected to return soon after dealing with knee soreness since arriving in Orlando. Could he be the saving grace for this Grizzlies team? There is no way of telling.
Downing Portland is a tall task for this promising Grizzlies team flush with young talent, but if 2020 has taught us anything it is to expect the unexpected.
Featured image courtesy of Commercial Appeal.