At the end of the seeding games, courtesy of a 6-2 record, the Portland Trail Blazers jumped to the eighth seed in the Western Conference. On the other hand, the Grizzlies qualify for the play-in tournament as the ninth seed, despite a 2-6 record through the seeding games, courtesy of a victory in their final game against the Milwaukee Bucks.
Both teams staved off some intense competition from the Phoenix Suns - the bubble's only undefeated team - and the San Antonio Spurs, who went 5-3 in their eight games in Orlando.
NBA.com is your destination for complete coverage of every playoff series from now through the end of the NBA Finals. But before that, let's talk about the play-in tournament, the first-ever in NBA history:
- Game 1 - Sunday, Aug. 16 @ 12:00 AM IST
- Game 2 (if necessary) - Monday, Aug. 17 @ 2:00 AM IST
Result: Tied 1-1
Best game: July 31, 2020 - Trail Blazers 140, Grizzlies 135
Best performance: Brandon Clarke (Feb. 12, 2020) - 27 points (12-14 FG) in 23 minutes
The Trail Blazers and the Grizzlies have played just twice this season and each team has claimed victory once. The first of their two contests was the final game for either team before the All-Star break.
Damian Lillard injured his groin, a set back that forced him to miss the All-Star Game and six regular-season games after.
Canadian rookie Brandon Clarke was all over this contest, matching his career-high of 27 points in just 23 minutes of action on an incredible 12-of-14 shooting from the field. Fellow rookie Ja Morant finished with 20 points and nine assists as the Grizzlies dominated the Blazers in the paint, 76-34, and carried a four-game lead for the eighth seed into the All-Star break.
Game 2 of this season came in the Orland bubble, the first seeding game for either team.
48 minutes weren't enough to settle it, so an overtime session was required. That's when the Blazers' veteran backcourt duo took over the game. CJ McCollum, who finished with a game-high 33 points (14-21 FG), and Damian Lillard (29 points, nine assists) combined to score 11 of the team's 16 points in the extra session to win the game, 140-135.
It was a wild game. The Grizzlies led by as many as 13 in the third quarter, then they rallied to lead by as many as 11 in the fourth quarter. In the extra five minutes, the Blazers raced ahead by going on an 11-0 run in the first 2:29 minutes. Memphis kept it interesting but eventually suffered a key loss.
Key Storyline: Short-handed young guns vs. Grizzled vets
The composition of both rosters are contrasting in nature.
Five (Ja Morant, Dillon Brooks, Brandon Clarke, De'Anthony Melton, Grayson Allen) of the nine players in the Grizzlies' main rotation have NBA experience of three years or less and nearly no playoff experience. They are also without young star Jarren Jackson Jr., who was ruled out for the rest of the season with a meniscus tear.
The leaders on the Blazers in Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum and Carmelo Anthony have multiple years of playoff experience. Among the remaining, Jusuf Nurkic and Hassan Whiteside have a couple of decently long postseasons under them. Zach Collins as a rookie played a huge role in Portland's Conference Finals appearance last season.
Led by established franchise stars, Portland has played each game like it's their last and while their defensive numbers might not look great, it's their numbers in the clutch that jump out. Every one of their eight games has been played in the clutch, and yet they have the fifth-best net rating in the league in the bubble.
Blazers in the clutch (5-point games in the last 5 minutes) in the bubble- StatMuse (@statmuse) August 14, 2020
36 points (1st in NBA)
5 threes (tied 1st)
4-4 on threes (1st)
5 threes (tied 1st)
55.6 3P% pic.twitter.com/Os5jlnfkbx
On the other hand, the Grizzlies have lost all of their five clutch games in the season restart. They rank 27th in offensive rating (Portland - 3rd), 29th in defensive rating (Portland - 12th) and 29th in net rating.
Three Players to Watch
Lillard, the only All-Star in this match-up, is coming into this play-in tournament with averages of 37.6 points, 9.6 assists and 4.3 rebounds on 49.7% shooting from the field, 43.6% from beyond the arc and 88.8% from the free-throw line.
His level of play in the season's restart in Orlando - certainly worthy of being named seeding games MVP - has been very similar to his red-hot six-game stretch back in late January,
Especially over the last three games, when the defences knew the ball was going to him, he still scored or made the right play that led to a score in pressure situations that eventually resulted in a win. In the last three games, which the Blazers won out, he's averaged 51.3 points and 9.0 assists on 56.1% shooting from the field, 48.8% from beyond the arc and 95.3% from the line.
With what's at stake and his current form, it's highly likely that the Oakland native will come up huge once again.
Everybody on the Grizzlies has picked up the slack since Jaren Jackson Jr. was sidelined. Veteran Jonas Valanciunas has contributed efficiently while playing extra minutes, Anthony Tolliver is knocking down long balls and the duo of Brandon Clarke and Dillon Brooks have upped their scoring.
But all eyes will be on Rookie of the Year finalist Ja Morant. Having the ball in his hands, can he control the tempo and do what is necessary to lead the Grizzlies to two wins in two games against the Blazers?
Only time will tell but he certainly has the potential, talent and flair.
Gary Trent Jr.
He's been the spark off the bench for the Blazers.
Outside of one off game (5 points, 2-8 FG, 1-6 3PT) against the Philadelphia 76ers, the 37th overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft has either contributed with his scoring or the intangibles. In six of the remaining seven games, he's scored at least 16 points, including three games scoring 20-plus points. Against the Dallas Mavericks, he finished with only 11 points but was a game-high +24.
Through these eight seeding games, he's provided the team with a shooting threat by knocking down 34 3-pointers in Orlando, second only to teammate Damian Lillard.
Picks and Prediction
Yash Matange; Portland in one.
Benyam Kidane: Portland in one.
Carlan Gay: Portland in two.
Scott Rafferty: Portland in one.
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