"But, you know, we can't control that," Morant said in an interview on ESPN's The Jump last week. "Only thing we can control is how, you know, we go out and attack each of these games before that decision is made."
Well, the Grizzlies have since proceeded to go out and lose three close, competitive games to open their time here inside the NBA's campus at Walt Disney World Resort. So now, after losing 109-99 to the New Orleans Pelicans Monday night, the Grizzlies not only are all but certain of having to play in a play-in tournament -- it isn't clear they will even be the higher-seeded team when it starts.
"It's tough, but all you can do is keep going around here," Grizzlies power forward Jaren Jackson Jr. said Monday. "We're not doing anything else. We came to Orlando for a reason. We all made sacrifices to come here, so we're just going to keep going and leave it all out there."
Things could have looked a lot different for Memphis had they managed to win even one -- let alone two or even three -- of these opening games, all of which were well within their grasp and against teams that are chasing them: the Pelicans, the San Antonio Spurs. and the Portland Trail Blazers. Instead, Memphis went to sleep Monday with all five teams chasing them for the eighth playoff spot between 2 and 3.5 games behind them -- leaving all of them within the necessary four games to force play-in games to take place.
Part of what has cost Memphis has been a series of youthful indiscretions late in games -- a reasonable occurrence for a young team trying to find its way into the playoffs. But part of it also is a byproduct of the team's lack of shooting -- particularly when Jackson and presumptive Rookie of the Year Ja Morant go a combined 12-for-38 overall and 3-for-18 from 3-point range like they did against the Pelicans.
Shooting guard Dillon Brooks, a catalyst in some of Memphis' best performances this season, is shooting only 36.7% from the field and 21.7% from 3 in Florida. As a team, Memphis shot 12-for-43 from behind the arc (27.9%). New Orleans, on the other hand, shot 11-for-29 (37.9%).
"Our offense has to be better," Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins said. "Shooting 39% of 93 shots. We've got to give ourselves a chance. I thought we got some great looks. That's just something we'll have to overcome."
The other thing Memphis will have to overcome is the schedule. They could have handled things against the sub-.500 teams that want their spot, but that didn't happen. Now, the Grizzlies get a closing run of games against five contenders -- the Utah Jazz, Oklahoma City Thunder, Toronto Raptors, Boston Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks. Things won't be getting any easier anytime soon.
After these opening three games, though, the Grizzlies only have themselves to blame for their predicament. --Tim Bontemps
Here's the latest on the standings, the games to watch Monday and Tuesday, plus everything you need to know. Check back here for highlights and updates throughout the day.
Lakers win clinches top seed after so many bad seasons
The Los Angeles Lakers have clinched the top seed in the West after beating the Utah Jazz 116-108. The Lakers had missed the playoffs each of the previous six seasons. A player that was on none of those woebegone Laker teams, All-Star power forward Anthony Davis, dominated the Jazz with 42 points, 12 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals, a block, and four 3s.
Backup Lakers power forward Kyle Kuzma, the longest-tenured player on the team, gave a shout out to the fans who had to rely on the ring count while the franchise was at the bottom of the conference for most of the 2010s:
Real laker fans remember the losing seasons. Here ya go #1 😤🔒— kuz (@kylekuzma) August 4, 2020
Shake saves Sixers
The Philadelphia 76ers blew a 14-point lead with 11:36 left in a fourth quarter that saw the 76ers allow more than 40 points for the second straight game. The San Antonio Spurs led 130-128 with 10.4 seconds left to play.
Philadelphia point guard Shake Milton was the inbounder coming out of a Philadelphia timeout. He got the ball to backup center Al Horford, who looked for Joel Embiid in the post. But Spurs point guard Dejounte Murray was fronting the post, leaving Milton wide open. Milton got the ball back from Horford and calmly made what was ultimately the game-winning 3-pointer in a 132-130 Philadelphia victory.
Both Milton and Embiid, who got into a disagreement during Saturday's loss to the Indiana Pacers, reacted accordingly after the game.
Ball-to-Williamson long distance connection resumes
The tandem of New Orleans Pelicans point guard Lonzo Ball and rookie power forward Zion Williamson has already established themselves as one of the most dangerous alley-oop duos in the league. And if you needed a reminder, they obliged and provided one in the second quarter of their matchup against the Memphis Grizzlies, as Ball found Williamson for another long alley-oop. Memphis Grizzlies power forward Anthony Tolliver might as well have not even been there.
Williamson finished the game with 23 points -- emphasis on the word "finished," as he re-entered the contest with 4:29 left in the fourth quarter and helped exted a four-point Pelicans lead to a 109-99 win over the Grizzlies. Williamson and Pelicans All-Star Brandon Ingram made all four of New Orleans' field goals down the stretch as the tandem outscored the Grizzlies 11-6 in the final 4:29.
The Michael Porter Jr. performance you've been waiting for
Michael Porter Jr. was a highly-ranked recruit coming out of Seattle when he arrived at the University of Missouri in the fall of 2017. But back injuries limited Porter to only 53 minutes in three games at Missouri, and he scored only 30 points in college.
Porter slipped to the 14th pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, where the Denver Nuggets selected him -- and then the Nuggets effectively redshirted Porter, keeping him out of NBA games for the entire 2018-19 season.
This is Porter's rookie season, and it has been one that saw his role fluctuate on a strong team. Entering Monday's game against the Oklahoma City Thunder, Porter averaged 7.5 points in 14.2 minutes per game this season, with a high of 25.
Porter came out and put buckets all over the Thunder, scoring a career-high 37 points on 12-of-16 shooting from the field in a 121-113 overtime victory for the Nuggets. Porter also made 4-of-6 3s and all nine free throws, adding 12 rebounds, a steal and a block to his performance. As ESPN's Mike Schmitz details, he always had this kind of performance in him:
Michael Porter Jr's shotmaking was on full display during his 37-point outburst today vs OKC. Denver is doing a great job of springing him free -- DHOs with Jokic/Millsap, pick and pops, pindowns. Here's a look back at MPJs pre-draft scouting video: https://t.co/5z5IuvFduI pic.twitter.com/bcQfFYFUGq— Mike Schmitz (@Mike_Schmitz) August 4, 2020
Fred VanVleet drops career-high 36 on Heat
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Over the weekend, as the Toronto Raptors were going through practice, head coach Nick Nurse wanted his guards to work on operating out of traps when teams try to double-team them.
There was just one problem: Fred VanVleet didn't want to do it.
"I think he made that comment that 'I don't get blitzed,'" Nurse said of VanVleet. "And I said 'You're gonna start getting blitzed.'"
It turned out Nurse was right.
The Miami Heat tried just about everything to slow down VanVleet Monday afternoon -- including, after VanVleet went off for 16 points in the third quarter, throwing multiple blitzes at him to try to get the ball out of his hands.
While it worked a few times, including when VanVleet was forced into a charge late in the game, it wasn't enough to prevent him from finishing with a career-high 36 points -- and that doesn't account for VanVleet making what proved to be the game-winning steal in the closing seconds of Toronto's 107-103 win.
VanVleet's size and stature wouldn't have him out of place if he walked into local pickup game. He doesn't play with incredible athleticism or speed. All of those things were reasons why he wasn't drafted after a stellar career at Wichita State.
But the things he does have -- incredible toughness, a brilliant basketball mind and strong lateral quickness -- have helped him become a key cog in Toronto's title defense after losing Kawhi Leonard last summer.
"We can see the big picture," VanVleet said, "and understand that it's not really about everything leading up to it. The ultimate goal is to win a championship."
That both serves as a statement on what the Raptors have accomplished over the past 18 months, and how VanVleet has gone from an undrafted free agent to a starter for the defending champs.
-- Tim Bontemps
Bol Bol vs. The Point God
Bol Bol trying to guard CP3 ... BBQ 🍗 ALERT! pic.twitter.com/9eT45YQ50q— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) August 3, 2020
Victor Oladipo out Monday, will play Tuesday
Initially listed as doubtful to play, Indiana Pacers guard Victor Oladipo was officially ruled out of today's contest against the Washington Wizards as he continues to recover on his right knee injury.
However, the two-time All-Star guard is expected to be available for Tuesday's matchup versus Orlando.
"Victor will not play in back-to-backs so we've decided to sit him tonight," Pacers coach Nate McMillan said ahead of the Wizards game.
Pacers guard Malcolm Brogdon (cervical strain) missed the first game of the restart but suited up against the Wizards. Although Brogdon isn't under a minutes restriction, McMillan will pay close attention to his workload since conditioning could be factor with him after he joined the NBA bubble late following his positive coronavirus test.
"We certainly will be watching all of our guys," McMillan said. "All of these guys are pretty much going in with the same kind of condition in a sense that this is a restart. You know that guys are not in basketball shape right now, they have to play themselves into that conditioning and Malcolm playing his first game here in the restart, we certainly will be watching him." -- Eric Woodyard
Player names added to jerseys with social justice messages
Players' jerseys once again have a new look for the seeding games. For the first four days, any player who chose to have a social justice message on his jersey had that message appear above the number with nothing underneath, while players who eschewed the messaging had their names appear under their number. Now all players have their names under the number, with the social justice messaging still appearing above for players who've chosen to wear it.
Here is a picture of the new look for players during games, with both social justice messages and names on the back: pic.twitter.com/IW1OKDBTKm— Tim Bontemps (@TimBontemps) August 3, 2020
Tacko Fall has got some moves
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The Grizzlies weren't the only team playing the first back-to-backs of the seeding games. The Wizards are now 0-3 in seeding games and need a lot of things to go their way to force a play-in weekend.
The Spurs, unlike the Grizzlies and Wizards, entered their no-rest game day with a 2-0 record in seeding games. But like the Grizzlies and Wizards, the Spurs were unable to overcome the back-to-back and steal a win, dropping them back behind the Trail Blazers in the play-in race.
8. Memphis Grizzlies | 32-36 (.471) | --
9. Portland Trail Blazers | 30-38 (.441) | 2.0 GB
10. San Antonio Spurs | 29-37 (.439) | 2.0 GB
11. New Orleans Pelicans | 29-38 (.433) | 2.5 GB
12. Sacramento Kings | 28-37 (.424) | 3.0 GB
13. Phoenix Suns | 28-39 (.418) | 3.5 GB
Tuesday's must-see games
Dallas Mavericks vs. Sacramento Kings | 2:30 p.m. ET
Two teams badly in need of a win in Florida. The Kings come into this game on the heels of two straight losses that probably cost them any chance at the postseason -- so it will be interesting to see how motivated they are to play in a game against a Mavericks team that has let two winnable games slide right through their fingertips. For the Kings to get back on track, they need more from Buddy Hield. He comes into Tuesday's game shooting just 7-for-26 over his first two games. The Mavs could use more from Tim Hardaway Jr. who was just 1-for-12 in Sunday's loss to the Suns. -- Nick Friedell
Boston Celtics vs. Miami Heat | 6:30 p.m. ET
This sets up to be one of the most intense matchups on the campus. The Celtics got a much-needed win over a rejuvenated Trail Blazers team Sunday, and the Heat have looked both hungry and deep over their first two games. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown combined for 64 points against the Blazers, but expect Heat All-Star Jimmy Butler to help slow down Boston's perimeter movement early on Tuesday if he is available. -- Friedell
Houston Rockets vs. Portland Trail Blazers | 9 p.m. ET
There will be plenty of points -- lots of points -- in what figures to be one of the highest-scoring affairs of the month. These two top-five offenses score at will, but a main key will be how well Portland can use center Jusuf Nurkic and his height advantage against the Houston microball lineup. -- Friedell
Brooklyn Nets vs. Milwaukee Bucks | 1:30 p.m. ET
Phoenix Suns vs. LA Clippers | 4 p.m. ET
Orlando Magic vs. Indiana Pacers| 6 p.m. ET
Analysis and intel
Our NBA experts weigh in on the biggest trends after the first weekend of basketball.
The Raptors and Rockets both upset top teams, while the Spurs and Blazers fight for the No. 8 seed in the West.