The last series in the first round of the NBA Playoffs tips off Saturday night as in the Western Conference Quarterfinals, the top-seeded Utah Jazz will square off against the Memphis Grizzlies, who had to win both their play-in tournament games to make the postseason.
The Grizzlies finished ninth place in the Western Conference with a 38-34 record, which allowed them a chance at the postseason with the play-in tournament format.
They defeated the San Antonio Spurs 100-96 at home in the 9 vs. 10 game after a monster 23 point, 23-rebound performance from center Jonas Valanciunas.
Then, they faced MVP frontrunner Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors on the road in the elimination game. 2019-20 Rookie of the Year Ja Morant put on a show, dueling blow for blow with Curry. Morant finished with 35 points with two late jump shots to give the Grizzlies the 117-112 win.
The Grizzlies reached the postseason for the first time since the 2016-17 season, where the Grizzlies lost in six games to Kawhi Leonard and the Spurs. They have gone through a rebuilding phase and with some promising youngsters in Jaren Jackson Jr. and Morant, the Grizzlies have taken the next step and reached the postseason after the grit-and-grind era ended a few years ago.
Morant leads the way with 19.1 points per game (PPG) and will make his debut in the playoffs. Supporting Morant is winger Dillon Brooks with 17.2 PPG and Valancuinas, who controls the boards with 17.1 PPG and 12.5 rebounds per game.
The Grizzlies are toward the middle of the pack in nearly every statistical category, meaning there is no key aspect of the game they either excel or struggle at.
They will need to excel if their are to knock off the top-seeded Jazz in the first round of the playoffs. Eight seeds have only beaten a one seed five times in NBA history with the Grizzlies pulling the feat in 2011 over the Spurs.
The Jazz this season played angry, looking to bounce back after losing a 3-1 series lead to the Denver Nuggets in the first round of the playoffs last season.
The Jazz bolster four players that average at least 16 PPG and can shoot from long range, including Donovan Mitchell (26.4), Jordan Clarkson (18.4), Bojan Bogdanovic (17.0) and Mike Conley (16.2). With these contributions, the Jazz finished the regular season as the NBA’s fourth-highest scoring team and had the fourth-highest three-point field-goal percentage. Together, these four propelled the Jazz to their first number one seed since 1998, the last time the Jazz made the NBA Finals.
The glue for the Jazz has continued to be two-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year, center Rudy Gobert. Gobert dominated once again this season for Utah with 14.3 PPG and 13.5 RPG.
The Grizzlies come into this series with momentum from their two wins from the play-in tournament, giving them a boost mentally. The Jazz, on the other hand, will have to start the series without Mitchell, who will miss Game 1 with an ankle injury.
The Jazz are loaded and should be able to compensate for the loss of Mitchell, whenever he is forced to miss time. However, the Grizzlies are hungry and Ja Morant will be able to keep the Grizzlies competitive in this series.
In the end, the Jazz have too much firepower and should get out of a tough first-round series.
Prediction: Jazz in Six