Grizzlies, Bulls meet with playoff positions on the line

NBA Basketball

Eastern and Western Conference counterparts aim to avoid extending losing skids on Monday when the Memphis Grizzlies host the Chicago Bulls.

Both teams enter Monday’s contest having dropped two in a row to reside in one of the play-in spots of their respective conferences.

Memphis trailed the entire night on Sunday in a 132-125 loss to Indiana, marking the Grizzlies’ second defeat to the Pacers this season in which they never led. A 14-point first-quarter deficit extended to as many as 18 points before Jonas Valanciunas (career high-tying 34 points, 22 rebounds) led a comeback bid by Memphis.

“Nobody likes to lose, especially when you’re a possession away from (leading late in) the game,” guard Ja Morant said. “But we can’t be mad at that. We need to be mad at our effort at the beginning of the game.”

The Grizzlies surrendered 45 first-quarter points on Sunday, continuing the defensive lapses that plagued them Friday in a 133-129 overtime loss in New York. Memphis allowed 50 points to the Knicks between the fourth quarter and overtime.

Friday’s loss snapped a four-game winning streak for the Grizzlies. Heading into the second half of a back-to-back on Monday, Memphis now has a losing streak going and its place at No. 8 in the Western Conference in a more tenuous spot.

San Antonio is one game back of the Grizzlies and 10th-place Golden State sits two behind Memphis. The teams seeded No. 7-10 in each conference participate in the play-in tournament for the final two playoffs berths.

Chicago finds itself in 10th place after sustaining back-to-back losses on its five-game road trip.

The Bulls dropped a 120-108 decision to the Atlanta Hawks on Friday and 121-117 defeat two days later to Minnesota Timberwolves, the Western Conference’s last-place team.

“We’ve just gotta figure out how to win, man,” Zach LaVine said following Sunday’s loss. “Just frustrating losing. We’re a better team and we’re playing in winnable games. You’ve gotta come out ready to hoop. I feel like we didn’t come out the right way.”

Coach Billy Donovan provided an optimistic assessment of his team’s play.

“We don’t have the habits we need to have, but it’s not necessarily a lot of these guys’ fault,” Donovan said. “I don’t blame them at all.”

Donovan specifically cited the additions of Daniel Theis, Troy Brown Jr. and Nikola Vucevic, who were acquired last month from Boston, Washington and Orlando, respectively. All three scored in double figures on Sunday, with Brown notching 15 points and Theis 13 off the bench.

Vucevic’s four-game streak of scoring at least 22 points ended after he finished with 18 on Sunday. He is averaging 22.3 points and 9.7 rebounds in nine games with the Bulls.

Memphis, on Sunday, grabbed 24 offensive rebounds — 12 by Valanciunas — and is averaging 11.4 offensive boards per game as a team.

The Grizzlies are without Justise Winslow (quadriceps), Jontay Porter (knee) and De’Anthony Melton (leg soreness).

Chicago’s core is at full strength.

–Field Level Media

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