B/R NBA Staff Roundtable: Trail Blazers vs. Grizzlies Play-In Predictions

Bleacher Report NBA StaffFeatured ColumnistAugust 15, 2020

B/R NBA Staff Roundtable: Trail Blazers vs. Grizzlies Play-In Predictions

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    Mike Ehrmann/Associated Press

    The No. 8 Portland Trail Blazers and No. 9 Memphis Grizzlies are set to face off for the right to play LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers in Round 1 of the NBA playoffs.

    With all eyes on Damian Lillard, Ja Morant and the league's newest play-in tournament, Bleacher Report asked five writers to predict which team will advance and in how many games.

    Hit the B/R app to share your own predictions ahead of Saturday's contest.

The Health Factor

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    Mike Ehrmann/Associated Press

    The Portland Trail Blazers saw the Memphis Grizzlies just twice this year, and only one of those games, a Blazers victory, has any predictive value.

    Portland's five-point win on July 31 included Zach Collins and Jusuf Nurkic, neither of whom was healthy for the two teams' only prior meeting, a seven-point Grizzlies win on Feb. 12. Worse still for Memphis, Jaren Jackson Jr., who put up 33 points in that bubble loss to the Blazers, is done for the year with a torn meniscus. Tyus Jones, a key backup on a Grizzlies team that lacks playmaking behind Ja Morant, hasn't seen NBA game action since March 10. If he's finally healthy enough to play, expect a ton of rust.

    The young Grizzlies carry a massive experience deficit into the play-in round against a battle-tested and veteran-led Blazers team. Already at a disadvantage, the Grizzlies also face a talent gap, mostly because of injury. The Blazers defense makes a star of just about every opposing scorer, but Memphis doesn't seem ready to match buckets with a locked-in Damian Lillard. Portland will put this to bed Saturday.

    Blazers advance in 1

    Grant Hughes

Blazers' Surprise Depth

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    Ashley Landis/Associated Press

    The Blazers are playing like a team of destiny (perhaps to lose in the first round, but that's a different story). Lillard has rightfully gotten most of the attention for their 6-2 record and top-ranked offense in the bubble, but there is plenty more evidence to suggest they’ll get past the Grizzlies.

    CJ McCollum's production in Orlando has been overshadowed and underrated. He's averaged 20.1 points, 5.4 rebounds and 5.3 assists. The return of Jusuf Nurkic is huge. Last season, the Western Conference Finalist Blazers were plus-10.1 points per 100 possessions (95th percentile) when he played with the star guards. Even Carmelo Anthony has gotten in on the fun with 16.5 points, 1.9 threes and a 46.9 three-point percentage.

    But the biggest development for Portland may be the emergence of Gary Trent Jr. For years, we've wondered how Lillard might look with a bigger, more three-and-D wing next to him. Trent might be showing us what that looks like. He's averaging 16.9 points and 4.3 threes while shooting 50.7 percent from deep. And he's not afraid to take on any defensive assignment.

    Blazers advance in 1

    Andy Bailey

Is Ja Morant Equipped for Battle?

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    Mike Ehrmann/Associated Press

    It's weird to even think Portland is in this play-in game. The Blazers have deep playoff experience and a star playing at an MVP level.

    Memphis has that house-money swagger to knock off anyone, but not twice. And probably not once in this particular situation. As good as Ja Morant is, he's not currently equipped to outduel Damian Lillard without Jaren Jackson Jr. in the lineup.

    And the Blazers are looking deep with Jusuf Nurkic back and Gary Trent Jr. suddenly an impact scorer. He gives Portland needed, extra margin for error, in case CJ McCollum isn't on. The Blazers just have too much firepower for the Grizzlies to overcome.

    Blazers advance in 1

    Jonathan Wasserman

Blazers' Dicey Defense?

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    Ashley Landis/Associated Press

    Picking the Blazers to close out the Grizzlies in a single game should be more of a dice roll. Their first-place offense is complemented by a second-worst defense that, while doing an OK job of running teams off the three-point line, has struggled to get back in transition after a missed shot.

    Still, the Grizzlies no longer have the look and feel of a squad that belongs here. Kudos to them for entering a higher weight class than expected over most of the season. But the loss of Jaren Jackson Jr. has emaciated their already-shallow shooting ranks. Many of their lineup combinations now seem cluttered, and only the Lakers are hitting a smaller share of their three-point attempts.

    Memphis does have a few disruptive defenders to throw around but not nearly enough to neutralize Portland's offensive depth. Damian Lillard, Carmelo Anthony and Gary Trent Jr. are playing on another planet right now, and CJ McCollum, while battling a back issue, has shown his in-between game will continue to frustrate defenses.

    Tack on an increasingly mobile-looking Jusuf Nurkic, and the Blazers, though seemingly always teetering on the edge of defeat, should have the firepower necessary to make this play-in tournament a one-afternoon affair.

    Blazers advance in 1

    Dan Favale

Trust in Dame

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    Mike Ehrmann/Associated Press

    Portland needed overtime to outlast Memphis in the opening game of the restart. With the Grizzlies' second-best player, Jaren Jackson Jr., out for the season, that won't be the case again.

    The Blazers team that's shown up to the bubble has been a different one from the version that struggled in the regular season, with Zach Collins and especially Jusuf Nurkic newly healthy and completely changing their defense. Gary Trent Jr. has turned heads as well with his three-point shooting and tough defense.

    But this comes down, as always, to Damian Lillard, and I have a hard time picking against him after everything he's done thus far in Orlando. Ja Morant, on the other hand, has been inconsistent in the restart, shooting below 40 percent from the field in four of the Grizzlies' eight seeding games and turning the ball over at least four times in half their games as well. As great as he's been as a rookie, I don't trust him as much as Lillard, and the loss of Jackson greatly weakens Memphis up front. Dame is going to get it done once more.

    Blazers advance in 1

    Sean Highkin