The first two games of the Portland Trail Blazers best-of-seven, first-round series against the Memphis Grizzlies did not end up like the Blazers had hoped.

Memphis has smothered Portland on defense and the Blazers haven’t been able to slow the Grizzlies when Memphis has the ball. It all adds up to consecutive double-digit losses and a 0-2 hole in the series.

“Every guy understands it’s going to take more out there,” Blazers forward LaMarcus Aldridge said after practice on Friday.

The Blazers aren’t likely to make drastic changes 84 games into the season. However a few subtle adjustments could help swing the series.

“There’s not a lot to change honestly. We’ve looked at the film we’ve studied it,” Blazers back up big man Meyers Leonard said. “We’re there most of the time on defense. We’re taking good shots on offense. Some of the shots aren’t falling. Some of the things aren’t going our way.”

Here are five ways the Blazers can help things go their way and avoid a crippling 0-3 series deficit.

Share the ball

The Blazers opened the season with an impressive streak of unselfishness. They recorded at least 20 assists in 24 straight games. The ball zipped around the floor as players passed up good looks to generate great ones.

During the regular season 56.7 percent of the Blazers baskets came off assists. But against the Grizzlies that number has dwindled down to 46.8 percent. The lack of ball and player movement was one of the focuses at Friday’s practice.

“Sharing the ball a little bit more,” Blazers forward Nicolas Batum said of how the Blazers can open the offense. “We got to make them play more distance. That’s a good defensive team.”

The low assists numbers are partially a part of missed shots. After all good passes leading to bricks don’t end up in the box score, but making the Grizzlies’ defense work against more ball movement is the best way to jump start a stagnant offense.

“If the ball moves side to side and guys take shots with confidence, anybody can make shots like that,” Aldridge said.

Challenge three-point shooters

Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol command a lot of attention. But in the first two games the Blazers have been so concerned with the limiting the Grizzlies frontcourt duo inside, they’ve fallen prey to Memphis’ outside threats.

“You got to be able to do both,” Blazers guard Arron Afflalo said. “You can’t just try to take away the paint or stay outside.”

The Grizzlies are 11-for-25 from three in the first two games of the series. 

The Grizzlies have only taken 25 three-pointers in the first two games, but they have knocked down 11 of them (44 percent) because they’ve been getting clean looks on the perimeter.

According to NBA.com, the Grizzlies have attempted 13 three-pointers without a Blazers defender within six feet. Memphis is also 5-for-11 on three-pointers when a defender is between four and six feet away. Just one of the Grizzlies’ three-pointers in the series has been under heavy pressure, a defender closer than two feet.

“They have a great inside presence so we have to do better just about how we help out down low,” Afflalo said. “Being mindful of where the shooters are not being lost because we’re concentrating so much on the paint.”

The Blazers have been going under screens on the perimeter and daring the Grizzlies to take threes behind picks. Don’t anticipate a major change in how they deal with ball handlers as the Blazers’ defensive emphasis will continue to be on curbing attempts in the paint. Limiting open threes is more about staying aware of shooters lurking on the weak side than it is about forcing guards to take less off-the-dribbles three-pointers.

“When (Mike) Conley hits a three behind a screen that’s not something they do very much,” Blazers coach Terry Stotts said.  “Controlling the ball has been very important coming into this series. We haven’t done a very good job of that particularly with Conley and (Beno) Udrih.”

“We got to keep the ball out of the paint and keep contesting shots.”

Get to the line

For all of his offensive woes in the series, Damian Lillard has done a solid job of drawing fouls and earning trips to the free throw line. His Blazers teammates should follow his lead.

Lillard’s free throw rate (free throw attempts per field goals attempted) for the series is .405, but he’s the only Blazer getting to the line with regularity.

During the regular season the Blazers had the worst free throw rate in the league (.225) and they have been worse in the first two games against the Grizzlies (.215). LaMarcus Aldridge took 10 free throws in Game 2 and Lillard attempted eight, but no other Blazer got to the free throw line.

Earning free throws is paramount against the Grizzlies as the Blazers desperately need to generate easy point against Memphis’ suffocating half court defense. If they can get there, it’s a safe bet Portland can score as the Blazers shot an NBA-best 80.1 percent at the stripe this season. Nicolas Batum, CJ McCollum, Robin Lopez and Afflalo would all help the cause if they could earn a few easy points on foul shots.

Own the glass

About the only thing that went right for Portland in Game 1 was its dominance of the backboard. The Blazers out-rebounded the Grizzlies 56-48 in the first game of the series and held Memphis to just eight offensive rebounds.

The Blazers outrebounded the Grizzlies 42-41 in Game 2, but the easy second chance points killed Portland. The Grizzlies grabbed 12 offensive rebounds and were amazingly productive with their opportunities. Memphis set a franchise playoff-record with 27 second chance points in Game 2, including 21 second chance points in the first half alone.

If Chris Kaman can play in Game 3, the Blazers should get a boost on the defensive glass, but Portland can’t survive another game where the Grizzlies are so productive when grabbing their own misses.

Speed up the game

The Grizzlies have controlled the series in part because they forced the Blazers to play at their deliberate tempo. During the regular season the Grizzlies played the fifth slowest pace in the league, averaging just over 94 possessions per 48 minutes according to NBA.com. Memphis controlled Game 2 slowing the pace to just 84 possessions in a 15-point win.

The Blazers aren’t a full throttle fast break team by any means, but the more they can avoid operating against a set Memphis defense the better. According to NBA.com, 13.7 percent of the Blazers shot attempts have come with seven or fewer seconds remaining on the shot clock. They don’t need to rush things on offense, however initiating sets earlier in the clock has to be a priority.

If the Blazers can follow most of this five point plan, they have a chance to grab Game 3 and get back into the series.

“We still got an opportunity to win the series. We haven’t played as well as we would’ve liked to,” Lilard said. “I think that’s something to be excited about. We can play so much better. We just need to go out there and show that.”

—  Mike Richman

[email protected] | 503-221-8162 | @mikegrich

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