Ja Morant and the Grizzlies are feisty.
That attitude is a reason they climbed to eighth place in the Western Conference. Memphis held a 3.5-game advantage for playoff position when the NBA suspended its season due to coronavirus.
But now the Grizzlies must hold off the Pelicans, Trail Blazers, Kings, Spurs and Suns in a fairly wide-open race for the No. 8 seed.
If up more than four games on the ninth-place team after seeding games, the eighth-place team will make the playoffs. Otherwise, the eighth- and ninth-place teams will enter a play-in with the ninth-place team needing to win twice before the eight-place team wins once.
Is that system fair?
Morant, via ESPN:
Honestly, I don’t think so. But we can’t control that. Only thing we can control is how we go out and attack each of these games before that decision is made.
Morant clearly still has his feistiness.
Memphis also still has a significant advantage over New Orleans, Portland, Sacramento, San Antonio and Phoenix.
The Grizzlies are the most likely team of that group to make the playoffs outright. They’re the most likely team to reach the play-in stage. They’re the most likely team to have the eighth-place advantage in a play-in.
The NBA is properly rewarding Memphis based on the regular-season standings. If anything, the new format gives the Grizzlies an even better chance of reaching the postseason.
Remember, Memphis built its lead in part because its schedule so far happened to be easier than New Orleans’. That was going to flip the rest of the season.
The Grizzlies’ playoff odds were far from overwhelming when play shut down:
Grizzlies' playoff odds when the season got suspended:
538 RAPTOR: 15%
538 Elo: 43%
Every other top-16 team had >99% by all four measures.
— Dan Feldman (@DanFeldmanNBA) May 27, 2020
There was so much talk of resuming with just the top eight teams in each conference. Compared to that, Memphis has a much tougher road.
But compared to a normal finish to the season, this setup rates between fair and too favorable to the Grizzlies.
At least Morant is responding with a healthy mentality. So many great players find slights, real or imagined, for motivation. The Grizzlies will be ready to earn a playoff berth – just like they would’ve had to in normal times.