The Memphis Grizzlies’ 111-104 home victory over the Portland Trail Blazers on Wednesday night is sure to leave a good taste in Memphis fans’ mouths over the All-Star break. What makes this win even sweeter is the fact that Portland was nipping at the Grizzlies’ heels for the eighth seed in the Western Conference.

Heading into the contest the Grizz knew it wouldn’t be easy. After all, Damian Lillard had forced his name into the MVP conversation after an unbelievable stretch where he averaged over 40 points per game and positioned his Blazers squad within striking distance over the last two weeks.

After downing the Blazers, Memphis has achieved some breathing room with a 3.5-game lead to work with as the Grizzlies try and hold firm in the playoff picture.

Albeit a fantastic win, it was far from conventional.

The Grizzlies bench dominated the Blazers reserves and outscored them by a margin of 54-28.

Brandon Clarke was the catalyst in the second rotation tying his career-high of 27 points on an impressive 12-of-14 shooting. All but three of those points came from inside the paint, another area in which Memphis owned Portland. The Grizzlies put up a whopping 76 points in the paint compared to the Trail Blazers’ 34.

Ja Morant was a factor early and often, finishing the night with 20 points and nine assists. If the 19-year old wasn’t weaving his way through bodies in the lane, he was setting up his teammates at the rim. There was even a span lasting just over two minutes early in the second quarter where Morant assisted on five consecutive Grizz buckets.

Jonas Valanciunas was battling all night down low and finished with a double-double that consisted of 12 points and 18 boards.

The seven-foot Lithuanian and Hassan Whiteside, the Trail Blazer’s center, were certainly not exchanging birthday invitations Wednesday evening. After getting the best of Whiteside for most of the night, JV lured him into two technical fouls leading to his subsequent ejection with 19 ticks left on the clock.

Gorgui Dieng played his first game in a Grizzlies uniform and finished with seven points. Memphis was in desperate need of another big man and Deng appears to be a seamless fit into this fast-paced offense.

Not only can Dieng get up and down the floor better than most centers in the NBA, he can shoot it from three and his length often factors in on the defensive end of the floor. There is an obvious connection between himself and Tyus Jones that is still palpable after the two spent four seasons together playing for the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Next up for most of the Grizzlies is a week off before they gear up to head out west on a four-game road trip that features the Kings, Lakers, Clippers, and Rockets. Jaren Jackson Jr. and Morant will be teaming up for Team USA against the Canadian, Clarke, who will be suiting up for Team World in the NBA’s Rising Stars game Friday night in Chicago to kick off All-Star weekend.

The Memphis Grizzlies have far surpassed just about everybody’s expectations for them in the first half of the season. One thing is certain — the Grizzlies will not be surprising anybody in the second half of the season. The NBA has come to find out that this group of budding stars is for real.

Can the Grizz reach the playoffs for the first time since the 2016-2017 campaign? Tune in and find out. You won’t regret it.

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