Trail Blazers can't close the gap in Memphis
Also: Damian Lillard suffers a groin strain that will keep him out of All-Star
The road wasn't friendly to the Trail Blazers this time around, as Portland dropped both their games of the back-to-back trip, falling to the Grizzlies in Memphis 104-111 on Wednesday night. It was the first meeting in a pivotal matchup between the two teams as they jockey for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference heading into the All-Star break.
Compounding the disappointment was the fact that Damian Lillard exited the game in the final minutes with a non-contact injury that the team is calling a right groin strain. Lillard will undergo an MRI tomorrow, but said after the game he would sit out this weekend's All-Star Game and Three Point Contest in Chicago.
“I don’t think I’m playing… Actually I know it. I knew right away it wasn’t going to happen." Lillard said after the game. "I’ll still be there and be a part of it… hopefully somebody who should have been there and didn’t make it [can compete], Devin Booker or somebody like that.”
Portland's difficult road trip saw them face the #1 pick in last year's draft, Zion Williamson last night in New Orleans, and the #2 pick in Ja Morant this evening in Memphis. Morant seemed to have the offense in the palm of his hand, finding players cutting backdoor multiple times in the first half. Portland found their points on fast breaks early on, and seemed to have momentum after a 9-0 run, but Memphis answered with a 10-0 run of their own.
The key continued to be wide open for Memphis through the first half, and they dominated in that realm, eventually finishing the game with a 76-34 scoring advantage in the paint. After leading 18-17 in the first, the Blazers never led again in the game.
"Memphis played really well and with high energy. They were well rested," said Terry Stotts, "They had a lot of energy in transition, had a lot of paint points. They're a good paint team anyways."
The Trail Blazers continued to make the game interesting behind stellar shooting from Anfernee Simons off the bench, who finished with 22 points on 7-12 shooting, but they never came closer than when they narrowed the score to 82-86 with 1:26 left in the third. The Grizzlies then went on an 8-0 run that effectively put the game away.
Damian Lillard scored 20 points to go with 10 assists, his 16th double-double of the season, a career high.
Hassan Whiteside finished with 16 points and 11 rebounds, but was ejected from the game in the closing seconds after picking up his second technical when he got into an altercation with Jonas Valanciunas under the rim.
“We gotta take advantage of this break, rest mentally and physically, escape, and come back ready," said CJ McCollum in the locker room after the game.
The Blazers next game is February 21st against the New Orleans Pelicans in Portland.