Please select your default edition
Your default site has been set for 7 days

Western Conference Play-In: Ja Morant says calling Memphis Grizzlies underdogs is 'fuel to the fire'

Watch the Portland Trail Blazers take on the Memphis Grizzlies in the Western Conference Play-In on Saturday at 7:30pm live on Sky Sports Mix and via a free live stream on skysports.com, the Sky Sports app and Sky Sports' YouTube channel

Ja Morant takes flight for a dunk against the Utah Jazz
Image: Ja Morant takes flight for a dunk against the Utah Jazz

Ja Morant said the Memphis Grizzlies love being cast as the underdogs as they prepare to face the Portland Trail Blazers in the Western Conference Play-In.

Western Conference Play-In free on Sky Sports

Western Conference Play-In free on Sky Sports

Watch the Blazers take on the Grizzlies for the West's final playoff spot live for free on Saturday at 7:30pm

Live NBA: Memphis @ Portland

Heroics were needed to get Portland and Memphis to the doorstep of the playoffs.

For the Trail Blazers, Damian Lillard averaged more than 50 points - with a shot from a step inside midcourt in there as one of his many highlights - to lead the way in three consecutive down-to-the-wire, season-on-the-line victories.

Damian Lillard of the Portland Trail Blazers 0:14
Damian Lillard hits a three-pointer from just inside half court during the Portland Trail Blazers' victory over the Brooklyn Nets.

For the Grizzlies, Morant and Jonas Valanciunas became the first team-mates in Memphis history to post triple-doubles in what turned out to be a must-win game as well.

And now, the mission isn't done yet for either club. Portland and Memphis meet Saturday in Game 1 of the Western Conference Play-In series, live on Sky Sports Mix at 7:30pm and available to watch free on skysports.com, the Sky Sports app and Sky Sports' YouTube channel.

Follow Sky Sports NBA on Twitter

Follow Sky Sports NBA on Twitter

See the NBA's best plays and stay up to date with the latest news

The Trail Blazers have the upper hand by finishing the seeding-game portion of the NBA's restart ahead of the Grizzlies. Portland needs one win, Memphis needs two to advance to a first-round match-up against the Los Angeles Lakers.

The Grizzlies came into the restart at Walt Disney World in control of the Play-In race, then sputtered before winning the game they needed to on Thursday against Milwaukee to clinch a spot.

Also See:

Milwaukee Bucks and the Memphis Grizzlies 1:49
Highlights of the regular season seeding game between the Milwaukee Bucks and the Memphis Grizzlies

Morant said he remembers when the Grizzlies were ranked 27th coming into the season in a 30-team league. He has used that slight as fuel ever since.

"Now look at us," Morant said. "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 even better, coming in and being the underdog."

Grab a NOW TV Month Pass NOW!

Grab a NOW TV Month Pass NOW!

Grab a NOW TV Sky Sports Month Pass for just £25p/m for two months

"We are where we want to be," Portland coach Terry Stotts said. "And so, I don't think anybody is over the moon right now. We know that we have got a tough opponent in Memphis, so there was no time to really celebrate."

Had the Blazers lost any of their last three games, they could be home already. Lillard has scored 51, 61 and 42 points, respectively, in those three games - and had to sweat out a last-second shot by Brooklyn in a one-point Portland win on Thursday night that determined their Play-In fate.

Damian Lillard celebrates after scoring a career-high-equalling 61 points against the Dallas Mavericks 3:04
Damian Lillard erupted to tie high career-high with 61 points against the Dallas Mavericks

"I think mentally I'll be fine," Lillard said. "I think physically, it'll obviously be some fatigue here. But I think it won't be as hard as you might think because there is a lot riding on these games. Every game that we have been playing, our last three or four games, has been like our season is on the line."

NBA Gametime pundits Grant Hill, Quentin Richardson and Brendan Haywood offered their expert analysis on the Western Conference Play-In, with all three former NBA players making the Trail Blazers favourites to advance.

Ja Morant of the Memphis Grizzlies dunks the ball against the Portland Trail Blazers 1:24
Grant Hill and Quentin Richardson preview the Western Conference Play-In between the Memphis Grizzlies and the Portland Trail Blazers

"In a league where it is all about the guards, we have the future in Ja Morant and the 'right now' with Damian Lillard," said Hill.

"Portland are shooting 41 per cent from the three-point line as a team. Memphis are going to have to guard that three-point line. The Grizzlies are young and inexperienced but if they come out and 'play loose' they have a chance. But I'm going with Portland because they have been playing playoff-level basketball (in their seeding games) this whole time in the bubble."

Join our NBA group on Facebook

Join our NBA group on Facebook

Sign up and join the NBA conversation in our Facebook group

Richardson said: "This is an unbelievably tough task for the Memphis Grizzlies. It's not about winning one game. If they win one, they have to get the next one, too.

"Losing Jaren Jackson Jr (to injury) and what he bought to the table (makes their task) extremely tough, especially given Portland have welcomed back Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins (after long-term injuries) and (benefitted from) the emergence of Gary Trent Jr. I have to go with 'Dame Time' and the Portland Trail Blazers."

Damian Lillard attacks off the dribble against Brooklyn 3:03
Matt Winer and Brendan Haywood discuss the Grizzlies' chances to advance past the Blazers

"For the Grizzlies to pull off an upset, there will have to be an awful lot of Ja Morant. He would have to do something incredible that we'd be talking about for years to come," said Haywood.

"If they had Jaren Jackson Jr, I would like their chances. The fact that they are missing him and the fact he stretches the floor for Morant... I don't think Memphis are going to be able to make up for that loss. They might be able to beat Portland once, but I don't think Damian Lillard is going to let Portland lose two games to Memphis."

Get NBA news on your phone

Get NBA news on your phone

Want the latest NBA news, features and highlights on your phone? Find out more

Game 2, if necessary, will be Sunday. The series for the Play-In winner against the Lakers begins in the early hours of Wednesday morning.

Watch the Portland Trail Blazers take on the Memphis Grizzlies in the Western Conference Play-In on Saturday at 7:30pm live on Sky Sports Mix and via a free live stream on skysports.com, the Sky Sports app and Sky Sports' YouTube channel

Want to watch the NBA but don't have Sky Sports? Get the Sky Sports Action and Arena pack, click here.

Around Sky