MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES (32-33), 8th place Western Conference
Where are they now: There’s nowhere to go but down and out of the playoffs for the 8th-seeded Grizzlies, who are taking on all-comers looking to wrest away their playoff spot. And the Grizzlies must confront this onslaught alone; they are seven games behind the 7th-seeded Dallas Mavericks.
While there are five teams in their rearview gunning for them, the Grizzlies’ greatest threat will come from the three teams that are 3 ½ games behind them – the Portland Trail Blazers, New Orleans Pelicans and Sacramento Kings. The San Antonio Spurs are four games back and the Phoenix Suns are a near-impossible six back.
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Memphis Grizzlies First Half Highlights
It looked like the 2019-20 season was going to be another rebuilding year for the Grizzlies, who would be in next year’s lottery with this year’s rookie star Ja Morant in tow. And when the Grizzlies were a season-worst 10 games under .500 (6-16) on Dec. 7, no one was surprised.
But then came the new year and the Grizzlies started winning. An eye-opening 26-point win over the Los Angeles Clippers on Jan. 4 was the first of a seven-game winning streak, which also included a win over the Houston Rockets. The Grizz hit the .500 mark on Jan. 29 and finished January 11-4.
A win over the Mavericks on Feb. 5 put the Grizz one game above .500 and from there the team flirted with the .500 mark until play was suspended March 11.
Morant was everything the Grizzlies hoped he would be when they selected him No. 2 overall in the 2019 draft. Poised to win Rookie of the Year, Morant was leading the team in scoring at 17.6 and assists (6.9) when the season paused.
Memphis Grizzlies NBA Bubble Roster Rundown
The Grizzlies have an embarrassment of riches that would make the Brooklyn Nets seethe. Every player opted in, every player is healthy as coach Taylor Jenkins uses practice to whittle down 17 players to a rotation of 10-11.
“We’re sorting through different combinations, but not trying to lose the lineups that were successful for us to this point,” Jenkins said. “We’re going to have some really tough decisions to make, but that only means you have some great depth. We’re built on competing. We’re always prepared to have 17 guys ready to go at any given moment.”
Justise Winslow has recovered from the back injury that limited him to 11 games with the Miami Heat, from whom the Grizz obtained the versatile swingman at the trade deadline. He’ll compete for the fifth starting spot with Kyle Anderson and De’Anthony Melton.
Jaren Jackson is second to Morant in scoring at 16.9 points per game, followed by Dillon Brooks (15.7 ppg) and Jonas Valanciunas (14.9).
The Grizzlies sport a top-5 bench anchored by Tyus Jones and rookie Brandon Clarke.
Meanwhile, Morant added 12 pounds of muscle during the layoff.
Memphis Grizzlies NBA Bubble Playoff Outlook
The best thing going for the Grizzlies – outside of their stacked roster – is their 3 ½-game lead. And they’re going to need it, given the strength of their 8-game schedule. Their strongest competition figures to come from the New Orleans Pelicans, who have the easiest schedule of any team in the league and, of course, Zion Williamson.
So the Grizzlies have two key games in their first three of the restart – July 31 vs. the Blazers, Aug. 3 vs. the Pelicans. The Grizz don’t play the Kings, the only other team 3 ½ games back. However, the Grizzlies also play the top three teams in the East – Milwaukee, Toronto, Boston – in addition to Western heavies, the Utah Jazz and Oklahoma City Thunder.
ESPN gives the Grizzlies a 50 percent chance of hanging onto the 8th seed and the Pels a 35 percent chance. All that for the right to play the Los Angeles Lakers, most likely, in the first round. ESPN gives Memphis just a 1 percent chance of making it to the second round.
Memphis Grizzlies NBA bubble Best Bets: Ja Morant is a near lock to win NBA Rookie of the Year. Morant is a minus-10000 favorite to win over Zion Williamson, who has played in just 19 games entering the restart.
Also, the odds are with the Grizzlies to make the playoffs. Memphis is minus-160 to make the playoffs, plus-135 to miss, according to FanDuel. The Pelicans are plus-420 to make the playoffs.