Saturday’s play-in recreation (2:30 p.m. ET, ABC) between the Portland Path Blazers and Memphis Grizzlies is the uncommon NBA win-or-go-home contest, no less than for the Grizzlies. If Memphis wins on Saturday, the rematch is Sunday (4:30 p.m. ET, ESPN), with the winner advancing to the NBA playoffs to face the Los Angeles Lakers.
Can the Grizzlies win in single elimination to drive a second recreation? What surprises is perhaps coming our manner?
Our specialists make their predictions and share what they’re going to be looking forward to on Saturday.
MORE: Play-in and NBA playoff schedule
1. For the Blazers, what is going to you be watching most intently?
Royce Younger: I am not alleged to say Damian Lillard, as a result of that is an excessive amount of of a cliché, however how might it actually be the rest? So let’s make it particular no less than: How deep will the Grizzlies be with their pickup factors on Lillard? Past half courtroom? Different free throw line? The foyer at Yacht Membership?
Tim MacMahon: How is CJ McCollum transferring? I am guessing the Grizzlies will aggressively double-team Lillard, because the Nets did, and basically dare McCollum and the remainder of the Blazers to beat them. McCollum had 33 factors on 14-of-21 taking pictures in Portland’s bubble-opening win over Memphis, however he hasn’t been as efficient since reportedly struggling a nondisplaced fracture in his decrease again that evening (18 PPG on 39% taking pictures previously seven video games).
Chris Herring: How will McCollum, with a transverse fracture in his again, carry out? He was in a position to maneuver to the basket within the must-win recreation with Brooklyn. However he has made solely 18% (3-of-17) of his tries from deep the previous three video games — down from 45% (14-of-31) within the 4 video games earlier than that.
Kevin Pelton: Whether or not fatigue begins to set in sooner or later. Of the six top players in minutes during seeding games, 4 are Blazers (Lillard first, McCollum second, Carmelo Anthony fourth and Gary Trent Jr. sixth). They appeared to be working low on gasoline within the fourth quarter Thursday, when the Nets grabbed 54% of obtainable offensive rebounds. Will that be a problem with a comparatively fast turnaround?
Tim Bontemps: The group’s vitality degree. The Blazers have expended a ton simply to get this level, together with enjoying Lillard the entire second half in Thursday’s win over Brooklyn. Does Portland have sufficient to shut this out on Saturday and get a essential 72 hours of relaxation earlier than enjoying the Lakers?
2. For the Grizzlies, what is going to you be watching most intently?
Younger: The primary eight minutes for Memphis will reveal loads. Will the younger Grizzlies be shaken beneath the stress of the state of affairs, or will ignorance be bliss they usually roar out of the gates? Ja Morant has already made a reputation for himself in fearlessness, and there isn’t any motive to consider he’ll be timid at tipoff.
MacMahon: Likewise, I am excited to see how Rookie of the Yr lock Morant responds to the problem. Nice level guards have a aggressive charisma. Lillard epitomizes that along with his historical past of playoff walk-offs and his historic end to this unusual common season to place Portland on this place. Morant appears to be reduce from that sort of mould, and it is a enormous check for an immense expertise who simply celebrated his 21st birthday.
Bontemps: Can Memphis hit photographs? For the Grizzlies to have an opportunity to beat the Blazers, they might want to make 3-pointers, they usually have loads of suspect shooters from deep. To drag this off — particularly with out Jaren Jackson Jr. — they are going to want guys to play over their heads.
Herring: Can they take sufficient benefit of Portland’s porous protection to beat the Blazers twice? If anybody’s as much as that activity, it is rookie Brandon Clarke, who had a season-high 27-point exhibiting in opposition to Portland earlier within the 12 months. Two of his 4 finest scoring outputs this season got here in opposition to the Blazers as he made 20-of-27 photographs in opposition to Portland.
Pelton: How they resolve to defend Lillard. There are not any good choices at this level. Trapping Lillard close to half courtroom means giving up common 4-on-Three alternatives to the opposite Blazers, however letting Lillard get off any shot at this level is a dangerous proposition.
3. What is the potential Saturday shock we do not see coming?
Herring: You by no means know what you may get from Carmelo Anthony. After his depressing 1-for-15 effort vs. Memphis on Feb. 12, he scored 21 factors on 7-of-10 taking pictures in a victory over the Grizzlies two weeks in the past. He is a bellwether: The Blazers are 21-10 when Anthony shoots 40% or higher, however 7-20 when he is beneath that mark.
Bontemps: Carmelo has a throwback efficiency and drops 30 factors to get yet another crack at his longtime pal LeBron James in a playoff sequence.
Pelton: Mario Hezonja is a wild card. He gave Portland an enormous carry within the seeding opener vs. Memphis, scoring eight factors and including 4 rebounds, three steals and two assists in 23 minutes. Hezonja later went via a two-game stretch of DNP-CDs, a sign of how broadly his function and efficiency can range.
MacMahon: Will Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins persist with middle Jonas Valanciunas or go small? The massive man is coming off a monster efficiency, recording his first triple-double with 26 factors, 19 rebounds and 12 assists within the win over the Bucks. However Portland presents matchup issues for a standard massive who lacks mobility. Valanciunas performed solely 14 minutes in Memphis’ latest OT loss to the Blazers, when he acquired into foul hassle. He scored 16 factors on 4-of-Four taking pictures, however the Grizzlies have been outscored by 11 in these 14 minutes.
Younger: Pull out the box-and-one, Grizzlies! Unlikely, contemplating the opposite weapons the Blazers have, however that could possibly be the inspiration of a technique: attempt to see what different Blazer can beat you. With McCollum not 100% and a few inconsistency elsewhere, bracketing and doubling Lillard all over the place might imply massive photographs are within the fingers of Anthony and Gary Trent Jr.
4. Your prediction for Saturday’s recreation?
Younger: Damian Lillard feels inevitable proper now. It might actually take two video games with the friskiness of the Grizzlies, however sooner or later, Lillard finds a method to come via. It is what he does.
MacMahon: I will go along with Portland in a high-scoring affair, one thing like 125-118. I simply cannot decide in opposition to a scorching Dame on this state of affairs. Lillard arrived in Orlando on a mission and has been particularly locked in since his clutch missed free throws in opposition to the Clippers and the meat that ensued with a few dudes he has despatched residence earlier than, because the Blazers’ famous person so coolly reminded everybody.
Herring: With out true home-court benefit for Portland, I feel we’d get to Sunday. Given how enjoyable this restart has been, and to maximise drama, I hope we get two video games. And whereas Portland’s protection is terrible, I count on that Dame’s offense will overcome that in one of many two video games.
Bontemps: Regardless of my issues about their vitality degree, I feel the Blazers are simply too proficient and skilled for the younger Grizzlies. Portland will win by 15 factors.
Pelton: Given how Portland video games have gone within the bubble, I count on will probably be shut, neither group will have the ability to cease the opposite offense and the Blazers will narrowly pull it out ultimately.
5. Play-in winner vs. Lakers: How do you suppose that shapes up?
Bontemps: From the Lakers’ perspective, the Blazers are the worst attainable matchup among the many groups who might’ve clinched the eighth seed. L.A. has nobody to protect Damian Lillard, and Portland’s measurement inside may give LeBron James hassle on the rim. Finally, the Lakers ought to win, however they don’t seem to be removed from hazard. A chilly streak of taking pictures (they’re the worst taking pictures group and worst offensive group within the bubble) or an premature harm would put them there.
MacMahon: The Blazers are positively harmful sufficient to problem the Lakers. However Portland can be porous sufficient defensively to let the Lakers remedy loads of the offensive ills which have ailed them within the bubble. I will predict a few basic Dame supernova performances within the sequence, so give me Lakers in six.
Herring: Although Lillard or Ja Morant in all probability would frustrate the Lakers, I do not see Portland or Memphis giving the Lakers a severe run within the first spherical. Memphis would not have the expertise, and — regardless of L.A.’s offensive struggles within the bubble — I do not suppose the Blazers have the protection to get it executed.
Pelton: Whereas I am certain the Lakers would reasonably not face Lillard and a Blazers group with deep playoff expertise, I feel they need to be closely favored over whichever group wins this sequence.
Younger: The Blazers will push the Lakers in what ought to be a superb sequence. However even with the Lakers’ points within the bubble, the Blazers have not solved all of theirs both, notably their defensive limitations. Profitable 4 occasions would require 4 bonkers video games from Lillard, which is not onerous to think about. Downside is, that different facet can counter with James and Anthony Davis to offset any Dame Time eruption. Lakers in six.
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