Heading into the NBA's restart in Orlando, the Memphis Grizzlies held a 3.5 game lead for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
However, the Grizzlies were not guaranteed a playoff berth heading into the restart with the NBA instead electing for a play-in tournament, if necessary. As long as the ninth seed in the West was within 3.5 games of the eighth seed, a series of games would be played to determine who will advance to the Western Conference Playoffs. The eighth seed would only need to win once while the ninth seed would need to win twice.
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Before beginning the seeding games in Orlando, Memphis Grizzlies point guard Ja Morant was asked by ESPN's Rachel Nichols if he felt the play-in format for the eighth seed was fair.
He did not.
Honestly, I don’t think so, but we can't control that. Only thing we can control is how, you know, we go out and attack each of these games before that decision is made. -- Ja Morant
The Grizzlies felt there was no way they could blow a 3.5 game lead for a playoff spot with 17 games remaining. They managed to do it in seven, losing possession of the eighth seed Tuesday evening following the Portland Trail Blazers' victory over Dallas.
Memphis went from being seen as the far and away favorite to get the eighth seed after the seeding games with -120 odds in Westgate, to not even being the eighth seed in the West with one seeding game to go. A disastrous 1-6 record in the seeding games leaves the Grizzlies in danger of not even making the play-in series due to the hot play of Phoenix and San Antonio.
The Grizzlies can still earn the ninth seed with a win over the best team in the NBA, the Milwaukee Bucks, on Thursday.
"What motivates us is that 1-6 record, that's not good enough for us," Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins told reporters. "We've got a chance against the best team in the league on Thursday and whatever we can throw at 'em, we've got to throw it all on the line and see what happens after that."
With the East's top seed locked up, Mike Budenholzer may rest his starters. But, if he chooses to play them for even just the first half, the Bucks and their 9.7 net rating could easily eliminate the Grizzlies from postseason contention.
"One game left. Attack that game as any other game," Ja Morant said following a loss to Boston on Tuesday. "Don't put any pressure on ourselves and go out and try to do what we do every game, try to get a win."
Two weeks ago, Ja Morant was saying the play-in format was unfair. Now, he and his team are relying on it to continue their season.