Grizzlies get another chance to play into NBA postseason

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — The Memphis Grizzlies entered the season hoping to speed up the rebuilding process for the NBA’s second-youngest team by reaching the playoffs.

The can take the next step in achieving that goal Wednesday night — if they can beat the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA’s new play-in game postseason format. The Spurs-Grizzlies winner will play either the Los Angeles Lakers or Golden State Warriors on Friday night to earn the No. 8 seed and a spot in the best-of-seven first-round playoff series with top-seeded Utah.

“Obviously we know what’s at stake,” Grizzlies point guard Ja Morant said. “We got to be ready. Our goal is to win, so we not even thinking of losing those games for our season to end. We’re looking to win the game and look forward to whoever we play next.”

Memphis started the best playoff run in franchise history by knocking off the top-seeded Spurs in 2011. That run ended in 2017 with a 4-2 first-round loss to San Antonio.

Now the Grizzlies have rebuilt the roster with Morant, the No. 2 pick overall in 2019, and Jaren Jackson Jr., the fourth overall pick in 2018. Memphis played in the NBA’s first version of a play-in format last summer in the bubble in Orlando, but lost to Portland and fell short of securing the eighth seed.

“This is the first time really going through this play-in experience in a normal NBA season,” Memphis coach Taylor Jenkins said. “It’s always learning and growth, doesn’t matter if it’s year one, two or 20. We’ve got to learn from it, and we got to know how we got to be better.”

The Spurs record-tying streak of 22 consecutive playoff appearances came to an end in the Florida bubble, and they stumble into this game having lost four straight and five of their last six. Those losses haven’t been that close either with the eight in May by a margin of 15.25 points.

“We haven’t been playing as well as we probably could,” Spurs forward Rudy Gay said Tuesday. “And that’s obvious. We are at a point right now where we are desperate.”

The Grizzlies won the season series 2-1 against San Antonio — with the road team winning each time. Memphis has won five of the last six overall and is a 4-point favorite by FanDuel Sportsbook.

YOUTHFUL SPURS

Coach Gregg Popovich has his youngest roster yet as San Antonio’s coach. The Spurs have an average age of 25.5 with nine players under 25. Guard Dejounte Murray’s advice for his young teammates includes not taking any plays off and competing at a high level for 48 minutes.

“Pop is going to have a short leash because he understands what’s at stake,” Murray said. “If your number is called, be ready to go.”

OFFENSIVE GRIZZLIES

These Grizzlies set franchise records this season scoring 113.3 points a game and with a 111.7 offensive rating. They scored more than 130 points nine times this season, another franchise mark. They went 18-1 when posting an offensive rating of 119 or higher and led the NBA scoring 55.8 points per game in the paint.

SPURS ON THE ROAD

San Antonio was 19-17 on the road this season for their 21st consecutive winning record away from home. That’s the longest streak in the NBA ahead of Oklahoma City, Dallas and the Lakers who are all tied at 12 straight.

JV EFFECT

Memphis center Jonas Valanciunas missed the two wins against the Spurs under the league’s health and safety protocols. He’s healthy now after a season where he set a handful of career highs, including a franchise-record 12.5 rebounds per game — third in the NBA. He also had 49 double-doubles.

I KNOW YOU

Memphis has played the Spurs the most in the playoffs where San Antonio is 18-6, having swept the Grizzlies in their first postseason berth in 2004. San Antonio also swept them in the 2013 Western Conference final and again in 2016. Memphis earned its first series victory in 2011 as a No. 8 seed in six games.

Now the Grizzlies have doubled their capacity up to 40% or about 7,000 fans for this game.

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AP freelance writer Raul Dominguez contributed to this report.

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Follow Teresa M. Walker at https://twitter.com/TeresaMWalker

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