Grizzlies and Blazers wins set up ‘do or die’ situation for both teams

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Memphis Grizzlies guard Ja Morant (12) reacts after an assist to center Jonas Valanciunas (17) in the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Los Angeles Lakers, Saturday, Feb. 29, 2020, in Memphis, Tenn. (AP Photo/Brandon Dill)

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Survive and remain: No it is not college basketball, but it is the theme for the Memphis Grizzlies season this year.

The Grizzlies’ time in the NBA Bubble has been wavering at best. Nevertheless, they did what they had to do to make it into the play-in game which was defeating the Milwaukee Bucks, 119-106, for the coveted eighth seed, to face off against Damian Lillard and company. Despite the roller coaster the Grizzlies have been on, their budding star Ja Morant said he would not have it any other way.

“We were projected to be, what, 27th?” Morant said post-game to reporters. “Now look at us. Being that underdog doesn’t matter to us at all. We love being the underdog. It’s just extra motivation, fuel to the fire. It just makes our success that much better.”

“We were projected to be, what, 27th?” Morant said post-game to reporters. “Now look at us.”

Morant finished the game with a triple-double with his 12 points, 13 rebounds, and 10 assists. Grizzlies big man, Jonas Valanciunas dominated the game chipping in 26 points,19 rebounds, and 12 assists. It was his first career triple-double. Valanciunas said he like the way the team responded, and it showed the team’s character.

But the Grizzlies’ offense ran on all cylinders as Dillon Brooks led the team with 31 points against Milwaukee. The former Oregon Duck shot 12-for-18 from the field and knocked down 4 of his 7 3-pointers.

As the game proceeded, the Grizzlies took a commanding lead to take control of their own destiny.

The Grizzlies’ win over Milwaukee put the Phoenix Suns on the bubble, literally. The Suns were the only team undefeated in the bubble and gained respect from the league. Led by Devin Booker, Phoenix dominated the Dallas Mavericks by beating them 128-102 and had to watch to see what would happen between the Portland Trailblazers and the Brooklyn Nets.

Following their win over the Mavs, Suns’ star Booker said he was rooting for the Nets, but regardless of what happens, he was proud of his team.

“I’m a big Brooklyn Nets fan,” Booker said after the game. “I’m going to call my guy Tyler Johnson and make sure they’re going to give it their all. But either way, I’m proud of this team. What else can you ask for? We came down here when our chances were slim to none. We didn’t listen to any of the noise. We came in with the right mindset and won at every opportunity we had.”

Booker’s support was not enough for the Nets. The same could be said about Caris LeVert, who scored 37 points and gave Damian Lillard and company everything he had. But, when it mattered the most, LeVert with the chance to score and send the Blazers packing, he missed the step-back fadeaway shot which gave Lillard and the Blazers the victory. After the game, Lillard tipped his hat to the young Nets team but said he had to be aggressive because it was all or nothing for this team.

“Our season was on the line,” Lillard said after his 42-points performance. “It got to the point where I was like, I’m not going to sleep well tonight knowing that I was just passive and made the right play. So, each time I saw a look … I was raising it up and shooting it.”

Now the stage is set between Portland and Memphis. The rules are simple for the Grizzlies: They must win out to make it to the playoffs.

The first game is Saturday at 3:30 on ABC. If Memphis defeats Portland, they’ll play a win or go home game against Portland on Sunday. For Memphis, each game is a win or go home. For the Grizzlies, they say they prefer it that way because they see themselves as the underdogs.

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