5-12 Portland at 6-10 Memphis

Portland is coming off a 21 point loss. Memphis is coming off a 29 point win. Portland is 0-11 on the road, riding a 4 game losing streak (and 9 of their last 10) while Memphis is up 3 of their last 4. Everything is in place for a Memphis blow-out win.

They have players who give Portland fits...Rudy Gay went off in the first meeting, Pau Gasol turned his season could be a long night.

Adding to Portland's misery is the way they cannot seem to have anyone other than Aldridge have back to back good games. If things go according to form, Outlaw and Webster will disappear, Aldridge will bounce back from a rare bad game, and Portland will lose handily.

However...Portland should come into this game angry. This is gut check time. Unlike Ring Night when Portland gave the Spurs a run for their money...and could have won...they were never in the game against San Antonio. The Blazers have had a long run of playing other teams when their best player is out (Agent Zero, Adam Morrison, etc.) or having a horrible game (Iverson, Nowitzki twice, etc.) and still pulled off a horrific defeat. Duncan was never a factor and Portland still got blown off the court.

Portland needs to come out angry, put the hammer down, and play their hearts out. They need to play tough, aggressive defense, get the ball inside to their scorers, and make the shots. If they get a lead, they need to show a killer instinct and expand the lead instead of allowing Memphis back into the game.

If the Blazers come out with fire in their bellies and get the Grizzlies to miss a few shots early, this will be the game where they get the road monkey off their back. If not, they will get blown out yet again.

This is a tricky game. Everything I think about basketball points to a Blazer win. I stubbornly hold out the argument they are a better team than Memphis despite a plummeting record. They were just embarrassed and should come out strong. Memphis should come in overconfident after a team record tying blow-out win. You would expect Portland to rise up and make a statement.

However, the one thing we know about losing streaks is they tend to become self-perpetuating. A team might even build a lead...but when the opponent makes the inevitable mini-run, then the team in a long-term struggle thinks, "Here we go again." That key confidence component disappears. They rush their shot or take a bad shot trying to turn things around. Then they make a turnover. A mini-run turns into a monster run. Now the confidence is destroyed. Good shots rim out. Bad shots whiff everything. Defense suffers.

And the only thing that stops it is someone stepping up, overcoming the pressure and having a positive game. This is a key stretch for the Portland franchise. They have a long home stand coming up. They need to rebuild their confidence and find a way to get a few wins. That includes breaking through on the road. We will see whether they can or not. More and more it looks like my pre-season prediction of playoffs was way off base and a better prediction would be "lots of ping-pong balls in the lottery". I hope I am wrong.

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