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It’s Ja Morant time.

It’s Ja Morant time.
Illustration: Getty Photos

There are at present 9 NBA groups hovering round .500 and in or tied for the playoffs/play-in tourney. If that looks as if an abnormally excessive quantity, that’s as a result of it’s, and the Mavs barely missed out on this record as a result of they’re technically 4 video games above .500.

With the postseason format expanded to 10 groups, we’re naturally going to get extra mediocre groups in “competition,” but when we’re simply going by postseason, the variety of groups inside three video games of .500 or worse that made the postseason over the previous 4 seasons are: 5, three, three, and 0.

I’m fairly constructive COVID has one thing to do with a bevy of unimpressive groups vying to get smashed within the first spherical, however even when wholesome the Nuggets, Clippers, Lakers, Celtics, Knicks, and Wizards have all regarded like frozen pizzas. Positive, they’re good when scorching, however the remainder of the time, they’re OK to unhealthy. (I’m taking a look at you, DiGiorno, repair that sauce. It’s fucking gross.)

Having so many blah NBA squads, in flip, makes the nice groups look higher. The highest fours seeds in every convention have a win proportion over .600, with solely the Bucks (26-17) lower than 10 video games over .500. That is principally a great distance of asking are the highest eight groups that a lot better than the remainder of the league?

The Memphis Grizzlies, winners of 10 straight, seem like. They’re 6-3 towards the opposite high seven groups within the NBA, together with two wins towards the Warriors, and have crushed each a kind of seven groups — apart from Chicago, who they haven’t performed but. For the reason that begin of December, they’re 18-4. Solely the Bulls, the No. 1 seed within the East, have a greater document since that mark (13-3), however they’ve performed six much less video games resulting from ’Rona cancellations.

Clearly, the star in Memphis has been Ja Morant. I don’t have to say a ton, since you’re on the web, a spot he has owned the previous few weeks.

Nonetheless, two different younger gamers have contributed mightily. We noticed bits and items of Jaren Jackson Jr.’s potential earlier than accidents set him again a pair years, however he’s again to his outdated self on the defensive finish, defending the rim (two blocks per sport) and staying energetic (one steal per sport). Although he’s nonetheless discovering his vary — solely 31 % from deep — he’s remained sufficient of a menace to area the ground, which is very helpful once you share the entrance courtroom with Steven Adams.

Adams isn’t the opposite younger participant I used to be speaking about, however the transfer they made to carry him in (5 photographs per sport), and do away with Jonas Valančiūnas (12 photographs per sport) opened up a possibility for Desmond Bane, who discovered all seven of these obtainable makes an attempt, doubling his photographs per sport from seven final 12 months to 14 this 12 months, whereas capturing kind of the identical. He’s scoring 17 ppg, and is fairly constant doing it for a second-year man. He’s solely topped 30 factors as soon as, and solely scored lower than 10 six instances. For some context, fellow second-year participant Anthony Edwards (22 ppg this 12 months) had a five-game stretch earlier this season the place he scored 48, 9, 21, 9, and 26.

The remainder of the roster is a mixture of succesful veterans (Dillon Brooks, Kyle Anderson, Tyus Jones) and gifted younger guys (De’Anthony Melton, Brandon Clarke) who know their position and play it accordingly. Brooks is out three-to-five weeks with a sprained ankle after lacking time previous to that resulting from protocols, however so long as he returns they usually keep wholesome, together with Morant who already had a stint on the IR, the Grizz look suited to make noise within the postseason.

It wouldn’t shock me if the Warriors and Suns jockeyed for place to play Utah in second spherical, both, as a result of the blueprint to beat the Jazz is nicely documented. There are methods to beat younger groups — be extra constant, execute higher late within the sport, principally classes gained with expertise — however we’ve seen crazy-talented younger groups overachieve earlier than, and I wouldn’t need to fiddle with Memphis.

Messing round is strictly how I’d describe a majority of the NBA proper now. I do know I pointed to the highest 4 seeds in every convention as being vastly superior to everybody else, however even the Nets, Warmth, and Bucks have fallen prey to lackadaisical play.

Forgive me, I simply rewatched The City, however the Grizzlies have joined the Suns, Warriors, Bulls, and Jazz as a part of the not fucking round crew.

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