Grizzlies to claw out of slump

After fourth straight defeat, Memphis need to improve to fend off chasing pack for final spot

Mike Conley of the Utah Jazz comes up against the Grizzlies' Ja Morant (extreme left) as the Jazz clinched a 124-115 win at Disney World.
Mike Conley of the Utah Jazz comes up against the Grizzlies' Ja Morant (extreme left) as the Jazz clinched a 124-115 win at Disney World.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

ORLANDO (Florida) • Before the National Basketball Association season restarted last week, the Memphis Grizzlies looked to be nailed-on favourites to land the eighth and final play-off spot in the Western Conference, with a 31/2-game lead over the Portland Trail Blazers.

That gap has now whittled to just one game after they fell to their fourth straight defeat since entering the "bubble", losing 124-115 to the Utah Jazz at Disney World on Wednesday.

Joe Ingles led all scorers with 25 points as the Jazz moved into fourth place in the West, a half-game ahead of the Houston Rockets.

Memphis, on the other hand, are now looking over their shoulder as they seek to earn a post-season berth for the first time since 2017.

Not only are the Blazers closing in on their position, but so are the rest of the chasing pack. Just two games separate them and San Antonio Spurs and New Orleans Pelicans, with the Phoenix Suns a further half game back.

If the eighth-placed team does not finish four games ahead of the team in ninth, those teams must play each other to determine who makes the play-offs and with only four regular-season games left, it looks likely that will be the case.

To compound matters, Memphis (32-27) have also lost Jaren Jackson Jr for the remainder of the season owing to a knee injury.

Not only is the forward the team's second-highest scorer this season, averaging 17.5 points per game, but he has also been their best player since the league's resumption, adding eight points to his usual output.

The Grizzlies are, however, not losing faith that they can find a way out of their slump, even without Jackson. Rookie of the Year contender Ja Morant, who had 20 points on the night, said: "We're still focused on whichever game we've got coming up.

"The media are going, 'Oh, well, they had this lead. Now they have this lead. Somebody is coming to take it.'

"We can't pay attention to that, because that would lead to us trying to put pressure on ourselves, which we don't have to.

STAYING IN THE MIX

It's all magnified in a four-game stretch where we're 0-4 and it hasn't shaken our way, but we're learning a lot from every game. We've just got to keep gaining confidence from what we're doing.

TAYLOR JENKINS , Memphis Grizzlies coach, is confident his players will rebound from their losing streak.

"We're learning from everything we're going through right now. We've got four games left to play, and we're going to attack those games."

Memphis coach Taylor Jenkins also insisted his team had been unlucky during their recent run, saying: "Our guys are getting better every single game.

"It's all magnified in a four-game stretch where we're 0-4 and it hasn't shaken our way, but we're learning a lot from every game. We've just got to keep gaining confidence from what we're doing."

With such an intense battle for the last play-off place - the other seven have already been claimed - LeBron James is keeping a close eye on the permutations.

As the top seeds in the West, the Los Angeles Lakers will take on whoever finishes eighth and the forward revealed he was "seeing what can possibly be our match-ups".

Separately, the league confirmed there were no positive Covid-19 tests in its latest round of testing. No player has yet been infected while inside the "bubble".

REUTERS

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 07, 2020, with the headline 'Grizzlies to claw out of slump'. Print Edition | Subscribe