For Ja Morant (left) and this season’s Grizzlies, the NBA’s 82-game season looms, with the first pre-season game set for Tuesday (Oct. 5). On Sunday, an open-practice pace was the order of the day. (Photo: Terry Davis)
Terry Davis

As the Memphis Grizzlies wound down from their sneak-peek, open practice on Sunday at FedExForum, head coach Taylor Jenkins gave voice to an elephant in the room: “We know the anticipation coming into this season is big time.”

Yep, he’s right.

The anticipation comes with the territory when you have surpassed the expectations of many during the previous season by knocking off the San Antonio Spurs and Golden State Warriors during the NBA play-in games and startling the top-seeded Utah Jazz before giving way in five games in the first round of the Western Conference Playoffs.

So, on Sunday (Oct. 3) fans ready to roll with star guard Ja Morant and a reworked Grizzlies roster made their way to the Downtown arena for an open practice and an introduction of sorts.

“I thought the energy was good today. It was a great experience,” said Jenkins. “We are not going to have everything installed by the first preseason game.”

That game comes Tuesday (Oct. 5) at home against the Milwaukee Bucks, the defending NBA champions.

Sunday was about entertainment. During the opening drills, the Grizzlies let loose with super long-range shots and fan-dazzling dunks. The practice featured some drills and was capped off with a 20-minute, two-half scrimmage.

Always the competitor, Morant asked the score at the end of the first segment. His team was leading 19-13.

The team was split into two quads. The white team led by Jaren Jackson Jr. and Desmond Bane played for the Metropolitan Inter-Faith Association (MIFA). The blue team led by Morant and rookie Ziaire Williams played for the Mid-South Food Bank. The American Cancer Society, Black Girls Code-Memphis Chapter, Latino Memphis and Literacy Mid-South also were designated to share in $15,000 in donations from the open practice.

Defense? That is not a point of emphasis when the players perform in such a setting. And they clearly enjoyed entertaining the fans on hand. When it came time for the tossing of Grizzlies’ T-shirts into the stands – always a fan-favorite element at games – Jenkins and Morant even got into the action.

After the scrimmage, the players were divided into four teams for a three-point shooting contest. The first team to make five three-pointers from six designated spots on the floor would win the competition. Each team represented a local charity.

Asked what he wants to get out of the team’s six-game preseason schedule, Morant said, “My legs under me.

“Training camp was wild. I have to continue to stay healthy and take care of my body when it is time to go.”

After a pandemic-shortened season, the NBA resumes its 82-game schedule this season, putting even more of a premium on health and endurance. For most of Memphis’ young core, the 82-game run will be the first experience with a full-fledged NBA season.