The Memphis Grizzlies are set to face the Portland Trail Blazers in the first round of the NBA playoffs, and they are hoping to recover from their ice-cold finish.
The Grizzlies finished with the fifth seed in the Western Conference after spending a large part of the regular season with the second seed.
This was before they were bitten by the injury bug, which affected point guard Mike Conley and shooting guard/small forward Tony Allen, who is one of the best defenders in the NBA.
The Grizzlies are also missing other key players such as guard Courtney Lee, and All-Star center Marc Gasol is playing through a sprained ankle.
However, the Trail Blazers are also extremely banged up as shooting guards Arron Afflalo and C.J. McCollum are out for the season, and fellow shooting guard Nicolas Batum is not 100 percent as he nurses a right knee contusion.
The Blazers are also without small forward Wesley Matthews, who suffered a season-ending torn Achilles tendon. Fortunately for them, they still have point guard Damian Lillard and power forward LaMarcus Aldridge healthy.
Lillard and Aldridge are both All-Star players who are also elite players at their respective positions. Lillard is one of the most clutch players in the NBA, as he demonstrated in the Blazers’ playoff series in 2014 against the Houston Rockets.
Lillard made a buzzer-beating three-pointer in Game 6, which gave the Blazers a one-point win that advanced them to the next round.
He has continued to blossom this season and has improved as a rebounder while continuing to be a solid scorer and passer. Lillard averaged 21.0 points, 4.6 rebounds and 6.2 assists per game this season.
Meanwhile, Aldridge once again led the Blazers in scoring with 23.4 points per game while averaging 10.2 rebounds, and he will look to increase his value even more since he is set to become a free agent this upcoming offseason.
The Blazers and Grizzlies will feature an intriguing big man matchup between Aldridge and Gasol. Even when not 100 percent, Gasol makes a major impact on the Grizzlies as a scorer and even more as a defender.
Gasol won Defensive Player of the Year honors in 2013, and he scored 17.4 points and grabbed 7.8 rebounds a game this season.
The Grizzlies also have another reliable big man in power forward Zach Randolph, who leads the team in rebounds with 10.5 per game while scoring 16.1 points.
Their back court is questionable though with the aforementioned injuries, but Conley plans to play despite being hindered by his foot injury.
Allen will also play against the Blazers, giving the Grizzlies the opportunity to switch between him and Jeff Green at small forward.
Both teams are entering the playoffs after weak finishes, as the Blazers lost their last four games while the Grizzlies lost six of their last 11 games.
While the Grizzlies have a better defense, the Blazers have improved this season in that area by ranking 12th in the NBA with 98.6 points allowed per game. Meanwhile, the Grizzlies’ best defenders, Gasol and Allen, will not be 100 percent.
Expect the Blazers to ride Aldridge and Lillard’s production to a series-opening road victory, but it will not be easy.
Prediction: Trail Blazers 97, Grizzlies 92