No games are a given in the NBA’s restart.
Not with the teams near the bottom of the standings staying home instead of resuming their seasons.
But the Memphis Grizzlies’ first four games of the eight scheduled to be played in the NBA bubble near Orlando looked to be an opportunity to put themselves in strong position to make the playoffs for the first time in three seasons.
That hasn’t happened, though, and now things get even more difficult.
Beginning with Friday’s game against the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Grizzlies’ schedule gets even tougher and their playoff hopes more precarious.
Memphis has dropped five consecutive games, including four in Florida. The Grizzlies (32-37) are still in eighth place in the Western Conference, but their margin for error is gone.
“We can’t pay attention to that because that will lead to us trying to put pressure on ourselves, which we don’t have to,” Memphis point guard Ja Morant said. “We’re learning from everything we’re going through right now and still have four games to play.
“We’re just going to attack those four games.”
Memphis is coming off a 124-115 loss Wednesday against Utah in which things fell apart in the second quarter with a 22-1 Jazz run to take control.
“Guys got to look in the mirror and say, ‘What can I do better? What can I focus on? What details do I need (to) improve on besides watch film?'” Grizzlies wing Dillon Brooks said. “We’re making minor mistakes, and they’re costing us big. Guys got to realize that even though we’re a young team.”
The Thunder (42-25) are in the playoffs but are still fighting for position in a tight grouping from fourth to seventh in the conference.
Oklahoma City is 2-1 since the restart, including a decisive 105-86 win over the Lakers on Wednesday.
The Thunder weren’t expected to be in the playoff picture, much less fighting for a top-four seed in the Western Conference.
But Oklahoma City is right there, thanks in large part to Chris Paul’s performance, both on the court and in helping guide a young team which traded away its two stars last offseason.
“They probably get tired of me talking about it,” Paul said of the postseason. “One of the things you learn about the playoffs is you want to make sure you have a team that feels like they can’t be beat four out of seven times.
“We’re just trying to build that identity.”
Both teams are expected to be without their backup point guards.
Oklahoma City’s Dennis Schroder left the team for the birth of his second child and will have to sit out a quarantine period once he returns.
Memphis’ Tyus Jones is closing in on a return after missing all four games of the return with knee soreness.
The Grizzlies and Thunder have split their two meetings this season, though they haven’t played since December.
In the last meeting, Dec. 26, Jaren Jackson scored 20 to lead the Grizzlies to a 110-97 win. Jackson suffered a torn meniscus in Monday’s loss to New Orleans and will miss the rest of the season.
–Field Level Media