Great optimism oozed from the Memphis Grizzlies after the NBA announced the restart of the pandemic-altered season. They had 17 healthy bodies and the hopes of getting the eighth seed in the Western Conference of the NBA Playoffs were soaring high.
Four games into the restart, the Grizzlies have yet to win a game in the bubble environment in Orlando, losing 124-115 to Utah on Wednesday.
And, Memphis, which faces the Oklahoma City Thunder on Friday, must go the rest of the way without star big man Jaren Jackson Jr.
Jackson was playing his best basketball of the season, scoring 20-plus points in the first three games. He took a bad fall during the loss to New Orleans and continued to play. A postgame evaluation revealed a meniscus tear, with Jackson ruled out for the rest of this season.
It’s not the first time this season the team has had to play without Jackson. Asked about playing without Jackson, head coach Taylor Jenkins pointed to “resilience and the resolve of our team all season. We play Grizzlies basketball regardless to who is in the lineup.”
Still, Jackson’s voice “is definitely going to be missed,” said Jenkins.
“We have talked (about) this with the whole team. Everyone has got to step up on the offensive end. Being at the right spot on defense. He had taken huge (strides) in his leadership and being a more vocal player on the court.”
Because of the pandemic, all of the NBA’s playoffs-contending teams are playing games in a restricted, no-fans-allowed environment in Orlando. Memphis made it to Orlando with a good margin on the final playoffs spot, but that has shrunken in recent days.
The health factor is affecting Memphis’ fortunes. Justice Winslow arrived for the playoffs run looking to make an impact after being traded to Memphis from the Miami Heat. He had been slated to hit the court before the COVID-19 interruption.
Winslow was making strides in practice and was very energetic during the zoom meetings with the media. Then he suffered an injury in practice and was ruled out for the season.
And, right before the Orlando stretch began, backup point guard Tyrus Jones suffered an injury, with word of his status for the rest of the season pending.
Still, the schedule may be in the favor of the Grizzlies. Memphis’ last three games are against powerhouses Toronto, Boston and Milwaukee – teams that may be resting their stars at that juncture
Memphis has shown resilience all season. With backs to the wall, the Grizzlies have responded with unexpected wins.
Notably, the Grizzlies have played well in the seeding games, with chances to win in the fourth quarter of each. So far, they just have not been able to get over the hump.