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Playoff implcations in Portland

The Grizzlies will conclude the 2010-11 season with a two-day, two-game road trip out West, and when all is said and done, they’ll prepare for an 83rd game for the first time in five years.

While postseason basketball is guaranteed, there are no assurances as to which of the Western Conference’s top teams the Grizzlies will meet in a best-of-seven series. The Grizzlies can still finish anywhere from sixth to eighth in the conference, and could still meet any of the four teams (San Antonio Spurs, Dallas Mavericks, Los Angeles Lakers, Oklahoma City Thunder) that they went a combined 10-6 against in the regular season.

Tonight’s matchup with Portland will be crucial in playoff seeding, as the Trail Blazers can clinch the sixth seed with a win over the Grizz. If Memphis wins, however, another win tomorrow night over the L.A. Clippers would lock the Grizz in the sixth spot.

With so much yet to be decided in the next two games, tonight’s matchup with the Blazers could swing things for the Grizz one way or the other. Here are some keys to tonight’s game.

Benchmarks
With the playoffs fast approaching, the Grizzlies would relish an opportunity to let the starters take an extra breather or two at some point tonight. The grind of an 82-game season, especially for guys like Mike Conley who have played in all 80 games thus far, can take a toll. The Grizzlies want to win the next two games, but they’d also like to cut back on the minutes for their starting five. Fortunately, they are able to do so with little drop-off. The bench has been refreshingly fantastic all year long for Memphis, and that was the case again in a win over the Hornets Sunday night. The Grizz reserves tallied a season-high 61 points en route to the 22-point win, playing every minute of the fourth quarter. O.J. Mayo (game-high 18 points) and Greivis Vasquez (career-high 13) led the way Sunday, but playoff veterans Shane Battier and Leon Powe, as well as Darrell Arthur, Hamed Haddadi and Ish Smith, are all capable of playing significant postseason minutes. It was a best-of-both-worlds scenario for the Grizzlies Sunday, who were able to rest the first five while coasting to a victory.

Z-Bo knows Portland
Having played for the Trail Blazers for six seasons (including his last playoff appearance in 2003), it’s no surprise that Zach Randolph is familiar with the Trail Blazers. In nine career games playing against his former team, the All-NBA candidate has averaged 22.3 points, 11.8 rebounds and 1.33 steals, his best marks against any single opponent in the NBA. Randolph has the opportunity to close out his third consecutive season with averages of at least 20 points and 10 rebounds, currently registering 20.1 points and a franchise record and career-high 12.2 rebounds this year.

Who’s Hotter?
The Blazers and Grizzlies have both surged to the playoffs with strong second half performances and have remained hot down the stretch. Portland has won 10 of its last 14, while Memphis has won nine of 11 to fend off the Houston Rockets and clinch the final spot in the Western Conference Playoffs. In the last nine games, Portland has defeated each of the West’s top four teams, including San Antonio twice. Tonight’s game features two teams that the best in the West would rather have nothing to do with, so it will be interesting to see which of the two clubs enters the postseason with the most mome