The Memphis Grizzlies and Portland Trail Blazers get first crack at the NBA’s new play-in tournament Saturday afternoon when the playoff hopefuls meet near Orlando for what could be the first of two straight days.
The Grizzlies (34-39) finished ninth and the Trail Blazers (35-39) eighth in the Western Conference in the regular season, earning a head-to-head matchup in which Portland, as the higher seed, must be defeated twice in order to be denied the West’s final playoff spot.
If the Trail Blazers win Saturday, they would advance to a first-round playoff matchup with the top-seeded Los Angeles Lakers.
If the Grizzlies win, a rematch would be played Sunday, with that winner advancing to face the Lakers.
Both teams rode impressive individual efforts to reach the play-in tournament in must-win games on Thursday at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex near Orlando.
The Grizzlies, playing without star forward Jaren Jackson Jr., got triple-doubles from Jonas Valanciunas and Ja Morant in a 119-106 win over Milwaukee.
The win was just Memphis’ second in eight games since the restart.
“We’re not going home,” Valanciunas said after the win. “We’re going to fight until the last second.”
The Grizzlies and Trail Blazers will be meeting for the second time in Florida. Portland got 33 points from CJ McCollum, 29 from Damian Lillard and 21 from Carmelo Anthony in a 140-135 overtime win in each team’s first game in the bubble on July 31.
Jackson, who suffered torn meniscus in his knee two games later, poured in 33 points for Memphis.
The teams had met once previously, with the Grizzlies prevailing 111-104 at home in February behind 27 points from Brandon Clarke. McCollum had 23 and Lillard 20 for Portland.
Needing a win to avoid falling into 10th place and having their season end in Thursday’s late game, the Trail Blazers got 42 points from Lillard in a 134-133 victory over Brooklyn.
“I would say that we were happy (and) relieved,” Portland coach Terry Stotts said after the game. “We’re excited to be in the play-in round. We are where we wanted to be. I don’t think anybody is over the moon right now. We know that we got a tough opponent in Memphis, so there was no real time to celebrate.”
Portland has gone 6-2 since arriving in Florida.
Lillard finished the eight-game reschedule as one of the top scorers in the bubble at 37.6 points per game, shooting 49.7 percent overall and 43.6 percent on 3-pointers. He added 9.6 assists and 4.3 rebounds per contest.
His point guard counterpart, Morant, got the better of the All-Star in assists with 9.9 per contest in Florida, but shot just 39.4 percent overall and 22.5 percent on 3-pointers while averaging 19.0 points.
Neither had much success from behind the arc in their two previous meetings, with Lillard going 4-for-16, while the rookie Morant struggled at 1-for-12.
–Field Level Media