Blazers forward LaMarcus Aldridge
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NBA schedule: Sunday’s showdown

The Portland Trail Blazers are one of the most underestimated teams in the National Basketball Association. Portland, 36-18, is going to win the Northwest Division and is currently slotted into the third seed in the Western Conference. On Sunday night, the Blazers will get a stiff test when the Memphis Grizzlies come to visit.

This is a contest featuring two of the better defenses in the league. Memphis is famous for its rugged style of play, turning FedEx Forum into The Grindhouse. Portland is one of the few teams which can match up with the Grizzlies inside, showcasing LaMarcus Aldridge and Robin Lopez to counter Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph.

In addition to Aldridge and Lopez, the Blazers have dynamic guard play led by All-Star Damian Lillard. Lillard, 24, is averaging 21.4 points, 6.2 assists and 4.6 rebounds per game, with the first and last categories being career highs. Then there is shooting guard Wesley Matthews, who has blossomed into a proven one of the more consistent scorers around. In his sixth year, Matthews is third on Portland with 16.3 points/game.

On Sunday, Lillard will be staring at Mike Conley Jr., another top-five point guard in today’s game. Conley is a two-way player and at 27 years old, is hitting his peak. The former Ohio State star is totaling 16.9 points and 5.3 assists/game, quarterbacking Memphis to the lead in a wild Southwest Division.

Still, it is what lies beyond the box score that makes this game so appealing. In a day of high-profile stars and flashy offense, these groups play with a ferocity on both ends of the court. Major talent resides on both sides, but it’s the attitude sweating from their collective pores that makes these teams excellent. Even the more unheralded players like Courtney Lee and Nicolas Batum are key contributors, giving solid minutes off the bench to give their respective teams ample depth.

With Memphis and Portland holding the West’s second and third seeds, respectively, this is a potential second-round matchup come May. Should it come to fruition, the games would be a sermon on great point play and bigs pounding against each other on the block. What a treat that would be for everybody who loves great basketball. First, we get an appetizer on Sunday.

Sunday’s complete schedule

Cleveland Cavaliers at New York Knicks, 1:00 p.m. ET
Atlanta Hawks at Milwaukee Bucks, 3:30 p.m. ET
Washington Wizards at Detroit Pistons, 3:30 p.m. ET
Golden State Warriors at Indiana Pacers, 6:00 p.m. ET
Philadelphia 76ers at Orlando Magic, 6:00 p.m. ET
Denver Nuggets at Oklahoma City Thunder, 7:00 p.m. ET
Charlotte Hornets at Dallas Mavericks, 7:30 p.m. ET
Memphis Grizzlies at Portland Trail Blazers,  9:30 p.m. ET
Boston Celtics at Los Angeles Lakers, 9:30 p.m. ET

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