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NBA Play-In Game Betting Preview: Portland Trail Blazers vs. Memphis Grizzlies

NBA

Portland Trail Blazers -6.5 vs. Memphis Grizzlies O/U 231

With the NBA seeding round all but in the books, the basketball world turns its attention to the NBA’s first ever playoff play-in game, as the Portland Trailblazers take on the Memphis Grizzlies. Despite a chaotic close to the seeding round, in which the Phoenix Suns and San Antonio Spurs fought valiantly for a spot in this unprecedented event, the two most likely teams to face-off for the right to face the Los Angeles Lakers ended up grabbing the coveted slots. The only difference from the regular season, is that Portland ended up as the eighth-seed, while Memphis dropped to ninth position. This means that Portland now has to win only one game, whereas the Grizzlies must win two in a row to make the post-season. 

In truth, the Grizzlies are lucky to be here. Memphis was the surprise story of the regular season. Projected to finish deep into the lottery, its rebuild was accelerated by the excellent play of Ja Morant, surrounded by a group of competent complementary players. After starting the season 30-32 SU, Memphis limped through the last eleven games of the regular season, going 4-7. With the exception of a big win against the Lakers in late February, the Grizzlies’ only other victories in this stretch came against the lowly Atlanta Hawks and the struggling Brooklyn Nets. The situation only worsened in the bubble, as the Grizzlies went 2-6 SU and ATS over their eight seeding round games. The two wins came against a Thunder team missing Steven Adams and Dennis Schroeder, and a Milwaukee reserve squad. However, the team’s performance was actually somewhat consistent during this time. In the regular season, Memphis ranked 15th in the league, with a net rating of -1.0. In the seeding round, the Grizzlies posted an identical net rating of -1.0.  

Portland, meanwhile, tore off six wins in eight seeding round games, carried by the transcendent play of superstar Damian Lillard. Over the last three games, all must-win, Lillard scored a ridiculous 154 points, the most by any player in history over his last three games of the year. Dame’s masterpiece was a 61-point game in a comeback win against Dallas. Lillard is now the only player in NBA history other than Wilt Chamberlain to have three 60-point games in one season. Portland ranked 7th of 22 bubble teams, with a net rating of +2.1 in the seeding round. In the regular season, the Trailblazers ranked 20th, with a net rating of -1.5.  

Unsurprisingly, Portland has been boosted by the return of its starting front-court. Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins have looked fresh and healthy during the restart, and have logged a ton of minutes for a team lacking in size. Nurkic played his heart out in a desperate win against Brooklyn in the final game of the seeding round. The center put up 22 points on 11-for-17 shooting, to go along with 10 rebounds, three assists, and a plus/minus rating of +10 in his team’s one-point win. He should be able to have success on offense again in this matchup, as he faces the defensively-challenged Jonas Valanciunas in the middle against Memphis. Nurkic had 18 points, nine rebounds, and five assists in Portland’s opening seeding round overtime win against Memphis. Given that it was his first game in months, it stands to reason that Nurkic should be even better here. 

While Portland has managed to bed in some key contributors, Memphis has had to deal with the tough loss of young star Jaren Jackson Jr., who was lost for the season during the seeding round, with a torn meniscus. However, while there’s no doubting his long-term potential, Jackson has actually been a bit of a liability on the defensive end of the floor. The team’s defensive rating is 4.2 points higher with him off the floor.  

In the team’s most recent meeting, on July 31, Portland showed off its balanced scoring attack. Lillard had ‘only’ 29 points, but the Trail Blazers had five players score at least 17 points. As a team, Portland shot 53.8% from the field and 43.3% from distance. 

Ultimately, experience and expectations should win the day here. The Blazers were very upset with their performance in the regular season, especially following their run to the Western Conference Finals last year. The team spoke often of getting Nurkic and Collins back, and how much things would change. Damian Lillard never lost the belief that this team could get back to its highest level. The superstar point guard is on a mission, and its really hard to see him slipping up here. Add in the motivation of starting forward Carmelo Anthony, who is desperate to get back into the playoffs, and the veteran Blazers should be totally focused for this game. While they would not be eliminated if they lost this game, Portland will want to put this to bed and get ready to face a Lakers team whom they beat in Los Angeles the last time to two teams met, behind a 48-point, ten assist, nine rebound virtuoso performance from Lillard in the Staples Center. 

Memphis never expected to be in this position, and it showed as the games grew in importance and pressure. Rookie star Ja Morant went so far as to remind everyone that, actually, his team was “projected to finish 27th”. While this clearly motivated the Grizzlies during the season, it also shows that perhaps Memphis is maybe just happy to be here. That could be a huge difference. Because, Damian Lillard and the Blazers are certainly not happy about their season and are desperate for it to keep going.