Grizzlies playoff picture: Ja Morant’s return from suspension has Memphis believing in postseason push

In Ja Morant’s first game back from his league-mandated 25-game suspension, he put his star on full display while leading the Grizzlies back from a 24-point deficit to earn a two-point win over the Pelicans at the buzzer.

Exciting as Morant’s return was, the win only improved the Grizzlies’ record to 7-19 after the team struggled mightily in his absence. Sure, Morant saved Memphis on that night in New Orleans, but could he save its season, too?

Morant’s heroics signaled the first of four consecutive wins for the Grizzlies, a stretch that brought the team within nine games of .500. They then lost four of their next five to fall right back to where they were when Morant returned to the lineup — 12 games below the breakeven mark.

Regardless of their current standing, Morant’s presence has been — and will continue to be — enough to instill hope that this team can turn things around to make a postseason run. Case in point: Morant is averaging 25.6 points, 8.3 assists and 5.4 rebounds through his first eight games since returning to the floor. The Grizzlies are 5-3 in that span.

Contrast Memphis’ 5-3 record with Morant in the lineup to its 6-20 mark in his absence and it becomes even clearer that when he’s in the lineup, the Grizzlies are right to believe they genuinely have a chance to turn things around before it’s too late.

Couple Morant’s presence with the recent returns of Luke Kennard and Marcus Smart, as well as the impending return of Brandon Clarke, and Memphis has a shot to do something improbable, though not impossible.

Let’s take stock of the Grizzlies’ standing in the Western Conference playoffs and whether or not they can make a postseason run with over half of a season remaining.

MORE: Takeaways from the first NBA All-Star fan vote returns

Grizzlies playoff picture

As it nears the midway point of the 2023-24 season, Memphis is well under .500 but still has over 40 games to turn things around. The Grizzlies are currently the West’s 13th seed and need to move up to 10th to qualify for the Play-In Tournament.

In the two 82-game seasons since the NBA’s Play-In Tournament was instituted, the Western Conference’s 10th seed has had records of 40-42 (2022-23) and 34-48 (2021-22).

Based on current standings, this year’s No. 10 seed in the West is projected to win around 40 games while the No. 6 seed is on pace to win 49 games. While the sixth and final guaranteed playoff spot may be out of reach, Memphis could earn a shot at the postseason by winning around 30 of its final 48 games.

WATCH: Follow Ja Morant and the Grizzlies all season long on Sling TV

Western Conference standings

(Through games played on Thursday, Jan. 4)

  Team Record GB
6. Pelicans 21-14 4
7. Mavericks 20-15 5
8. Rockets 17-15 6.5
9. Suns 18-16 6.5
10. Lakers 17-18 8
11. Warriors 16-18 8.5
12. Jazz 16-19 9
13. Grizzlies 11-23 13.5

Notable midseason turnarounds

2016-17 Heat

Miami lost eight of its first 10 games to open the 2016-17 season, was 10-24 through 34 games and 11-30 at the midway point of the season. Incredibly, the Heat would then win 13 straight games and 30 of their final 41 games to finish the season with a 41-41 record.

Unfortunately for Miami, it was all for naught as it missed out on the NBA Playoffs by virtue of a tiebreaker with Chicago, which also was 41-41 on the season.

2021-22 Pelicans

In 2021, New Orleans lost 16 of its first 20 games and was 12-22 through 34 games. To close the season, the Pelicans won 24 of their final 48 games to earn the West’s No. 9 seed.

New Orleans defeated San Antonio in the 9-10 Play-In game before upsetting the Clippers in the second Play-In game to advance to the playoffs as the eighth seed.

2022-23 Lakers

In 2022, the Lakers began the season with a 2-10 record and were 14-20 through 34 games. Thanks in large part to savvy moves near the trade deadline, LA won 29 of its last 38 games to finish with a 43-39 record and earn the West’s 7th seed.

After winning the 7-8 Play-In game, the Lakers went on an incredible run, defeating the No. 2 Grizzlies and No. 6 Warriors to advance to the Western Conference Finals as a Play-In team.

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