The Memphis Grizzlies were already struggling in Orlando, going winless in their first three games since the NBA restart. Then things became significantly worse Tuesday night when the organization announced that 20-year-old power forward Jaren Jackson Jr. is out for the rest of the season with a meniscus tear in his left knee.
Jackson “experienced an unstable landing after making contact with an opposing player while contesting a shot,” according to a statement from the team.
The second-year Michigan State product had started all 57 games he’d played in this year. Jackson finished the season averaging 17.4 points, 4.6 rebounds and 1.6 blocked shots per game. He has improved his perimeter shooting, hitting 145 treys and making 39.4 percent of his attempts from 3-point territory.
In the three games in Orlando, Jackson had been sensational. In a 140-135 overtime loss to Portland, he had 33 points and drained six 3-pointers. Jackson followed that up with 21 points, three rebounds, two steals and two blocked shots in a 108-106 setback vs. San Antonio. He buried 8-of-13 field-goal attempts against the Spurs.
In Monday’s 109-99 defeat to New Orleans, Jackson had 22 points, two rebounds, two assists, two blocks and one steal.
As a rookie in 2018-19 after Memphis selected him No. 4 overall in the first round of the 2018 NBA Draft, Jackson started 56 of 58 games he played. He averaged 13.8 points, 4.7 rebounds and 1.4 blocked shots per game.
Memphis remains in the No. 8 slot and would be in the playoffs if the season ended today. However, Portland is healthier with its ‘bigs’ back in the lineup since the restart and looks like a playoff team right now. After beating Houston last night, the Trail Blazers are only 1.5 games behind the Grizzlies.
Remember, the ninth place team in a conference gets to play the eighth team in a play-in series as long as it’s within four games of the last postseason spot at the end of the eight-game restart. In that scenario, the ninth-place team must win two games over the eighth-place squad, who has to win only once.
But it isn’t just Portland hot on the heels of the Grizzlies. San Antonio is 2-1 in three games in Orlando, with its lone defeat coming by a 132-130 count Monday vs. Philadelphia. The Spurs are two games behind the Grizzlies going into today’s game vs. Denver as five-point underdogs.
New Orleans is 2.5 back of Memphis thanks to three regular-season wins over the Grizzlies by double-digit margins. Phoenix has played well in Orlando and is just three behind Memphis after Devin Booker’s game-winning buzzer beater knocked off the Clippers yesterday. The Suns won outright as nine-point underdogs and hooked up money-line supporters with a +295 return, including one who hit a monster parlay that also had the Nets on the money line.
Even Sacramento is still in the hunt trailing the Grizzlies by 3.5 games.
Memphis is a five-point underdog for today’s game vs. Utah at 1:30 p.m. Eastern.