While there are still many concerns over the rising number of coronavirus cases in Florida, the NBA is moving ahead with its plan to resume the 2019-20 season at Disney World. Twenty-two teams will be in attendance, including the young Memphis Grizzlies, who are looking to secure their first playoff appearance since 2017.
Heading into the season, the Grizzlies were widely expected to make their third straight trip to the lottery, and after a 13-22 start, that seemed likely. Instead, thanks in large part to No. 2 overall pick Ja Morant, the Grizzlies turned things around and surged into the playoff picture.
At 32-33, they're in eighth place in the Western Conference heading into Orlando, but will have to fend off a number of teams, including Zion Williamson and the New Orleans Pelicans. Ahead of the restart, here's everything you need to know about the Grizzlies.
- Grayson Allen
- Kyle Anderson
- Dillon Brooks
- Brandon Clarke
- Gorgui Dieng
- Marko Gudric
- Josh Jackson
- Jaren Jackson Jr.
- Tyus Jones
- John Konchar (Two-way)
- De'Anthony Melton
- Ja Morant
- Jontay Porter
- Anthony Tolliver
- Jonas Valanciunas
- Yuta Watanabe (Two-way)
- Justise Winslow
Players sitting out: N/A
All times Eastern
- July 31 vs. Trail Blazers, 3 p.m.
- Aug. 2 vs. Spurs, 3 p.m.
- Aug. 3 vs. Pelicans, 5:30 p.m.
- Aug. 5 vs. Jazz, 1:30 p.m.
- Aug. 7 vs. Thunder, 3 p.m.
- Aug. 9 vs. Raptors, 1 p.m.
- Aug. 11 vs. Celtics, 5:30 p.m.
- Aug. 13 vs. Bucks, TBD
Morant magic: The last time the Grizzlies had the No. 2 pick, back in 2009, they took Hasheem Thabeet. That didn't exactly go so well. Ten years later they had another chance and didn't let it go to waste. It didn't take long for Ja Morant to make a big impact. In just his third game in the league, he scored a game-tying layup to force overtime and finished with 30 points and nine assists to help the Grizzlies beat the Nets.
From there, he was off. Over the course of the season, he became one of the most electrifying players in the league thanks to his jaw-dropping athleticism. But he wasn't just a highlight machine; even this early in his career, he showed he's capable of being the leader the Grizzlies need moving forward.
Averaging 17.6 points and 6.9 assists, and driving the Grizzlies into playoff position, Morant is the favorite for Rookie of the Year. In order to secure that postseason berth, he'll need to prove in Orlando why he deserves that honor.
Playoff push: After the Grit 'n' Grind era came to an official end with the Mike Conley trade last offseason, it seemed like the Grizzlies would be destined for a lengthy rebuild. Instead, thanks to some strong draft picks and sharp front office maneuvering, they're right back in the playoff hunt after just two years in the lottery.
After a 13-22 start, they rattled off a 15-4 run to turn things around, and enter the Orlando restart in eighth place at 32-33. They have a 3.5-game lead on three teams tied for ninth -- the Pelicans, Trail Blazers and Kings -- but just finishing ahead of those teams won't be enough due to the play-in tournament format.
If any team is within four games of the eighth seed, they'll play a mini tournament in which the eighth seed has two games to win one. In other words, the ninth seed would have to beat the eighth seed twice in a row to take the playoff spot, while the eighth seed needs to win just one of the games to advance.
JJJ's return: The main storyline in Memphis this season has been Morant, and for good reason, as he's like going to win Rookie of the Year. But Jaren Jackson Jr. has been impressive as well in his second season in the league, putting up 16.9 points, 4.7 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game, while shooting 39.7 percent from 3-point land.
His ability to space the floor and defend the rim makes him a perfect frontcourt partner for Morant, and the club hopes that will be a partnership they can build around long term. They were starting to show some pretty encouraging signs in the second half of the season as the Grizzlies turned things around, but then JJJ suffered a knee sprain in late February against the Lakers.
He was still working his way back when the season shut down, and while the quarantine situation has been a nightmare in general, one silver lining for the Grizzlies was that it allowed Jackson to recover. He's now 100 percent healthy and will be ready to go when the season resumes in Orlando, which is huge for the Grizzlies.
The trade: Back at the trade deadline, which now seems like a lifetime ago, the Grizzlies were part of a three-team deal with the Heat and Timberwolves in which they sent out Andre Iguodala -- who hadn't played all season -- Jae Crowder and Solomon Hill and got Justise Winslow, Dion Waiters and Gorgui Dieng in return. Waiters was immediately waived, and Winslow has yet to play for the team due to a back injury.
We know the deal with Dieng -- he's fine as a back-up big -- but it will be fascinating to see how Winslow fits into this team. In theory, he should slot in perfectly as a wing who can create a bit, hit some outside shots -- he was at 22.2 percent from 3-point range in just 11 games last season but shot 38 and 37.5 percent the last two seasons, respectively -- and defend multiple positions. Plus, with all this time off, he's had a chance to recover and acclimated to the team instead of being thrown in on the run during the middle of the season.
At the same time, you never know how a player is going to fit with a new club, and this strange experience in Orlando isn't going to make things easy. But if Winslow is healthy and back to the form he showed the past few seasons with the Heat, he could give the Grizzlies a big boost in their playoff chase.