From what we’ve seen in the TV coverage and the players’ social media posts, the NBA has done an exceptional job structuring the restart format and the Disney bubble – and that goes for the seeding games, accommodations, and health protocols.
Still, we all had to expect that the league won’t be able to please everybody. In Ja Morant’s case, it’s about the play-in rule.
The Memphis Grizzlies’ star rookie recently sat down with ESPN’s Rachel Nichols to discuss his journey, playing style, basketball life inside a bubble, and his thoughts on the season’s modified format.
He did clarify that they are ready to compete and keep their playoff spot.
“Honestly, I don’t think [play-in system is fair], but we can’t control that. Only thing we can control is how we go out and attack each of these games … I just feel like it’s an extra chip … You know — more fuel to the fire, more motivation for us … Coming into the season, I think we were projected to be 29, and look at us now … We’re all very hungry and we know what we’re capable of, so we just go out and play.”
The Grizzlies, who currently own the eighth seed in the West’s playoff picture, began the restart holding a 3.5 game lead over the 9th, 10th, and 11th seeds, held by the Portland Trail Blazers, New Orleans Pelicans, and Sacramento Kings.
While they remain safe against the Pelicans and Kings (the Pels are actually 0-2 after today’s loss), the slight drawback is they lost to the Blazers in their own opener, 140-135.
On the surface, it’s easy to see Morant’s frustrations. The play-in system is requiring the eighth seed (which are the Grizzlies in the current scenario) to be at least 4.5 games ahead of the ninth seed at the end of the regular season, and only then they can lock the slot – if the lead is four games or less, there will be a short, play-in series. It sounds like a lot of pressure on the Grizzlies, who should be favoured given that they went to the shutdown having the best record among the in-the-hunt teams.
However, looking at it at a little deeper, it actually has the same challenge for everyone, moreso when it’s the Grizzlies and Pelicans. The league did well at replicating the teams’ original remaining games.
Also, think about it: in the original schedule, the teams roughly had 15-17 games left, and Memphis had to protect a 3.5-game lead while having the hardest schedule remaining. New Orleans, meanwhile, had the easiest.
Now, it’s trimmed down eight, which means they need to have a colossal collapse to get booted out – two in-the-hunt teams will basically need to 7-1 or 8-0, while the Grizzlies would simultaneously have to go 1-7- or 0-8.
Another important thing: the Grizzlies are yet to prove they’re better than the Pelicans. They’re 0-2 against them this season (lost by 10 and 28 points), and Zion Williamson didn’t even play in of those meetings. Oh, and the Pels also swept Blazers in their regular season, 4-0 – the same team that Memphis that just lost to.
Nevertheless, Morant’s subtle dig at the league has reminded us that they are playing with a giant chip on their shoulder. It’s equal parts fun, exciting, intriguing, and interesting, and just too good to anticipate.
The Grizzlies will return to the court on Monday against the San Antonio Spurs. They will then face the Pelicans the very next day in what could be an intense showdown.
Morant is focused, and he’s leading a tough, young core. The losing effort against the Blazers showcased it well too, as he, Jaren Jackson Jr., and Brandon Clarke combined for 76 points.