Jan 4, 2013; Memphis, TN, USA; Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard (0) looks to pass defended by Memphis Grizzlies guard Mike Conley (11) at the FedEx Forum. Portland defeated Memphis 86-84. Mandatory Credit: Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

Grizzlies Vs. Blazers: How To Stop Portland's Hot Starting 5

Tonight, the Grizzlies will attempt win their 10th of 11 games when they take on the Portland Trail Blazers at Fed Ex Forum. The Blazers are hanging by a thread in the playoff race, but their odds look slimmer with each passing day. They have one of the top starting lineups in the NBA, but their woefully lack of depth leaves them with a decidedly mediocre team. Still, the strength of their starting five is enough to make them a relatively frightening opponent.

The most intriguing position battle of the night will be at the power forward spot, where Zach Randolph matches up against LaMarcus Aldridge. Both in the top 10 in the league at their position, perhaps even the top 5. Aldridge is an excellent scorer in the post, which is why he’s managed to average 20.8 points per game this year. meanwhile, Randolph is second in the NBA in rebounding, and with Dwight Howard struggling lately, he just might wind up with the rebounding title for 2012-13 season. If Randolph solid D keeps Aldridge from being effective, that will go a long way in guiding the Grizzlies to victory.

Meanwhile, Mike Conley will have his hands full as he tries to stop Damian Lillard, who is a shoo-in for rookie of the year at this point. Lillard is an electrifying player who looks wise beyond his years. It will be thrilling to see how much better he gets as he enters his prime. Tonight, if Conley wants to stop Lillard, his best bet will be to work on generating turnovers. Lillard averages 3.0 per game, while Conley is second in the NBA in steals. If Conley can force Lillard to make foolish turnovers, he will not be his usual effective self. Lillard has been an atypical rookie, but perhaps going against a great defensive guard like Conley will remind Lillard of his youth.

J.J. Hickson has thrived as the starting center for the Blazers, averaging 13.2 points and 10.5 rebounds per game. Throughout his career, Hickson displayed flashes of brilliance, but was never able to fully put it together. that changed upon being traded from Kings to the Blazers last March. Hickson has thrived in Portland, and after struggling as a 3 and a 4, it’s obvious that the center position is his true calling. Tonight, however, Hickson will have his hands full as he goes against one of the best defenders in the game in Marc Gasol. Gasol has held some of the leagues best centers in check, and Hickson will have to really be up to the task tonight if he wants to contribute in a significant manner.

Tayshaun Prince’s defensive skills will be up to the task against Nicolas Batum, who has having a career season, and has been more dangerous than ever since becoming a much better passer. Batum is averaging 4.9 assists this season after never averaging more than 1,5 in any previous year, After year’s of potential, Batum has proven himself to be an extremely dynamic player, and well worth the 4-year $48 million contract he received this summer.

On the bench, the Grizzlies are a lot better than the Blazers, which isn’t saying much because the Blazers backups are pretty terrible. Rookie center Meyers Leonard has shown some potential, but for the most part, this time dies when the second unit becomes involved. this problem was somewhat remedied at the trade deadline, however, when the Blazers acquired Eric Maynor from the Oklahoma City Thunder. Maynor has been an excellent backup point guard in the past, and he has a great opportunity to revitalize his career in Portland.

This should be an interesting game, with a lot of great battles among each team’s respective starting five. If the Grizzlies defense is up to the task, and could prevent Lillard and Aldridge from having effective communication, this game could be over pretty fast. The bench for Portland is too weak to do much if the starters don’t play well.

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