A pair of Western Conference playoff contenders meet Sunday when the Memphis Grizzlies and host Portland Trail Blazers get together for the second of three matchups between the teams in six days.
Memphis (30-28) won a 130-128 decision over Portland on Friday behind 33 points and 13 assists from Ja Morant. Jaren Jackson Jr. gave the Grizzlies 23 points off the bench in just his second game of the season after returning from a torn meniscus sustained last August in the Orlando-area bubble.
“It’s going game-by-game, and I’ll progressively get back to full form where I’m playing 28, 30 minutes a game,” Jackson said in his postgame press conference after playing 25 in the victory over the Trail Blazers. “But for now, I feel pretty good out there.”
Jackson missed the final six games last season, which ended with Memphis missing the playoffs after a play-in game loss to Portland. The same two teams are separated by only 1 1/2 games heading into play Sunday, with the Grizzlies eighth in the Western Conference and the Trail Blazers slipping to seventh amid a four-game losing streak.
If the playoffs started now, Memphis and Portland would be the first two seeds in the conference play-in tournament.
Their close jockeying along with Dallas for the final guaranteed playoff berth, at No. 6 in the standings, heightens the stakes for the current Portland-Memphis series. After Sunday’s game, the teams meet again Wednesday at Memphis, Tenn.
In each of its four consecutive defeats heading into Sunday, Portland (32-27) lost by single-digit margins – including back-to-back one-point defeats against the Los Angeles Clippers and Denver Nuggets before Friday’s two-point decision against the Grizzlies.
Each of those three one-possession losses were also at home for the Trail Blazers. Sunday marks the finale of a four-game homestand before Portland goes on the road for six consecutive games.
“They had two transition baskets after makes, and that can’t happen,” Portland coach Terry Stotts said after his team’s most recent defeat. “They pushed the pace on us the entire game. … We really didn’t take away their transition at all for most of the night.”
Memphis scored 29 fast-break points to just seven for Portland. The Grizzlies also overcame a 30-percent 3-point shooting night, to 40 percent for the Trail Blazers, by posting a 74-58 advantage in points in the paint, following a season-long trend.
Memphis leads the NBA in both 2-point field goals attempted (61.2) and made per game (32.1). Friday’s 43-of-68 performance shooting from inside the 3-point arc came despite center Jonas Valanciunas, a 60.1-percent shooter from the interior, sitting out with a concussion.
Portland ranks next-to-last in the NBA defending 2-point field goals with a 55 percent yield. The return of center Jusuf Nurkic, who has missed 35 games on the season due to injury, provides some relief for the Trail Blazers inside.
Nurkic recorded season-highs of 26 points and 17 rebounds on Friday while playing 29 minutes, most since Jan. 13. His presence back in the lineup complements the explosive perimeter scoring duo of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, who scored 27 and 22 points, respectively, Friday.
–Field Level Media