Opponent: Memphis Grizzlies (29-28 overall, 5-5 last 10 games)
Offensive Rating: 111.8 (15th)
Defensive Rating: 110.3 (ninth)
Net Rating: +1.5 (12th)
Where: Moda Center (Portland)
When: 7:00 p.m. (PST)
Broadcast: NBC Sports Northwest/Bally Sports Southeast
Point Spread: Portland -3
Moneyline: Portland -152, Memphis +128
- Portland: Zach Collins (out), Derrick Jones Jr. (questionable)
- Memphis: Jonas Valanciunas (out)
Primer: His jaw-dropping athleticism, unbelievable creative flair and infectious on-court persona make Ja Morant one of the most exciting and popular players in basketball. Don't take our word for it, though. Morant is Damian Lillard's favorite young star to watch in the league.
The Grizzlies' franchise player has the makings of everything you want from a foundational cornerstone, and is already help driving his team to success despite obvious room for improvement.
Morant's been hot of late, but is still a reluctant, below-average three-point shooter, allowing defenses to play off him on and away from the ball and go under pick-and-rolls. He's more comfortable from mid-range, but Morant's lack of a consistent jumper still means he takes an inordinate of shots from floater range – like his team at large.
Morant and his teammates can make those shots. He has natural touch in the paint, an awesome left hand, and the ability to hang in the air and contort his body for spectacular finishes through and around would-be shot-blockers.
How many point guards, let alone NBA players in general, are capable of doing this to Rudy Gobert?
Morant, of course, is a special passer as well, the attribute that most informs the Grizzlies' quick-hitting, go-go offensive ethos in the halfcourt and open floor.
Memphis adds more points through transition play than any team in the league, per Cleaning the Glass. Morant's breakneck speed is a huge factor there, but so is the transition prowess of supporting players like Dillon Brooks, Grayson Allen and De'Anthony Melton – and maybe most importantly, the egalitarian, uptempo offensive identity championed by coach Taylor Jenkins.
Portland's transition defense has been poor of late, even falling victim to simple mistakes like failing to matchup. That's a death-knell against the Grizzlies, especially when they play without lumbering, elbowing center Jonas Valanciunas. The Blazers won't have the luxury on Friday of finding their prescribed assignment defensively before Morant and company run the ball down their throat.
Jaren Jackson Jr. will likely come off the bench in his second game back from injury. Just his presence is massive for a Memphis squad that lacks multiple high-volume long-range shooters, especially from the frontcourt. Going small when he's at center is probably Portland's best option. Jackson, despite that awkward delivery, can get as hot as any frontcourt shooter in the league. He's a capable, herky-jerky driver of close-outs, too.
What makes the Grizzlies' budding culture so promising is that they emphasize defense. Morant is the only objectively subpar defender in Jenkins' rotation. If Jackson's four blocks on Tuesday are a sign of major improvement on that end, Memphis' timeline toward real contention will be even further ahead of schedule.
Bottom Line: The Blazers will win from three, and the Grizzlies will win from two – that much is clear. But Memphis' depth somewhat compensates for Portland's superior star power, and Morant is capable of being the best player on the floor. The Blazers are favored for a reason, but it would be no surprise if the Grizzlies won on Friday night – or took two of three from Portland in these teams' crucial mini-series over the next five days.