Memphis took a 3-0 series lead on Portland last night, winning a third straight game on the backs of Marc Gasol and Courtney Lee.
This series between the No. 4 and No. 5 seeds in the West could have been one of the first round’s most interesting matchups. Portland plays an aesthetically pleasing style of basketball, running up and down the court and bombing threes at will. Memphis is a throwback to another time, slowing down the game and working their offense out of the elbows or the post.
But a matchup which has been ruined by injuries going in—the Trail Blazers have been without Wes Matthews and lost Arron Afflalo for two games—is only getting worse. Last night, the Grizzlies lost point guard Mike Conley in the third quarter after he took an elbow to the face from C.J. McCollum.
Other people who’ve missed time in the series include Portland backup center Chris Kaman and Memphis backup point guard Beno Udrih.
Injuries may mean more to these teams more than any other in the conference. Both Memphis and Portland pushed their chips to the middle of the table this season in hopes of making a deeper run in the playoffs, and both are in danger of not bringing back the rosters they envisioned bringing into the playoffs.
Gasol and Blazers star LaMarcus Aldridge are free agents this summer. Gasol seems like a solid bet to return, while rumblings are growing that Aldridge could be swayed by one of the Texas teams with cap space, the state where he played college ball. A shorter playoff run could discourage management on either side from making the kind of moves they made this season—trades for Afflalo and Jeff Green—in the future. Green also has a player option to leave this summer.
At this point, it’s clear the Grizzlies will move on to the next round for a series with the Golden State Warriors. Memphis will be a heavy underdog, and will have virtually no chance if Conley isn’t fully healthy.
For both Portland and Memphis, two teams have been good but not great the last couple seasons, it’s looking less and less likely that either of them can make the final leap.
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