One down, plenty more to go. While the opening round of the NBA playoffs has already produced plenty of drama, the Miami Heat's hopes of a repeat run have been extinguished.

The 2020 finalists fell at the first hurdle this time around, swept aside by a Milwaukee Bucks team now waiting to find out who they will face next. As for the defending champions, the Los Angeles Lakers are finding the going tough against the Phoenix Suns, that series one of three in the Western Conference delicately balanced at 2-2 through four games.

In the East, the picture looks somewhat clearer. Still, as the Denver Nuggets demonstrated last year in the NBA's Florida bubble, no 3-1 series lead is safe in the playoffs.

As the contests keep coming thick and fast, Stats Perform takes a brief pause to review those stepping up in the the playoffs, as well as the players who could do with finding some form again.


RUNNING HOT

Ja Morant

Having helped the Memphis Grizzlies come through the play-in tournament, Morant has continued to dazzle in the series against the Utah Jazz. After 26 points in the opener, the second-year point guard has dropped 47 and 28 in the next two meetings, albeit on neither occasion were his efforts enough to secure his team a victory.

Still, he is averaging 33.7 points per game against Utah, a huge upturn from 19.1 in the regular season. So, just how good has he been? Well, in reaching a century of points through his first three playoff games in the NBA, Morant matched a feat previously only achieved by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain and George Mikan.

Derrick Rose

Rose has claimed the starting point guard spot from Elfrid Payton for the New York Knicks as they go up against the Atlanta Hawks, a series the latter now leads 3-1 after a 113-96 triumph on Saturday.

Elevated off the bench, Rose has managed a combined total of 48 points in back-to-back losses on the road, during which he landed five of his nine attempts from deep. Payton, meanwhile, has scored one point in just 13 minutes of court time during the playoffs and did not get off the bench at all the past two games after averaging 10.1 points per game in the regular season.

Kawhi Leonard

"This is playoff basketball, we've just got to figure it out." Those were Leonard's words as the Los Angeles Clippers faced a 2-0 deficit as they headed to Dallas to continue their battle with the Mavericks.

It is safe to say the two-time NBA Finals MVP has done just that on his travels, helping his team fight back to level the series between the fourth and fifth seeds in the West. Across the past week, Leonard has averaged 35.7 points, aided by sinking 21 of his 23 attempts from the free-throw line, as well as contributing 24 rebounds. Playoff Kawhi means business this year.

GOING COLD

Shake Milton

Having averaged 13.0 points per outing in the regular season, Milton has endured a playoff slump for the Philadelphia 76ers as his minutes have been reduced. So far, the 24-year-old has managed nine points in a series that has seen his team hold control throughout.

Milton has managed to land only two of his 12 shot attempts, including missing all six in Game 2. In the following outing, head coach Doc Rivers opted to use Tyrese Maxey ahead of his team-mate off the bench, a move that may become a regular feature as the 76ers look set to move on to round two.

Enes Kanter

For the Portland Trail Blazers in the regular season, Kanter averaged 11.2 points and 11.0 rebounds per game. In the playoffs, however, it has been a different story for the veteran center.

After playing over 32 minutes across the first two games against the Denver Nuggets, Kanter has now figured in a little over nine in the following two. During his limited opportunities, there have been no points, two rebounds and a solitary blocked shot. Up against Nikola Jokic, the Blazers have opted to go with alternative options when starting center Jusuf Nurkic is taking a seat on the bench.

Montrezl Harrell

Make no mistake, the Lakers are locked in a battle with the Suns. Phoenix were impressive in taking Game 4 on the road on Saturday to draw level, during which the 2019-20 Sixth Man of the Year was finally called into action again by head coach Frank Vogel.

However, Harrell's appearance was fleeting. Having averaged 13.5 points during the regular season when playing just under 23 minutes per outing, he has been a non-factor in the playoffs. After not even making it onto the court in the previous two games, his brief cameo at the weekend saw him fail to muster a shot as LA lost at home. Across the past week, he has not scored a single point.

Joel Embiid's career night led the Philadelphia 76ers to a 132-103 rout of the Washington Wizards, pushing the top seed in the Eastern Conference to the brink of a series sweep. 

Embiid established a new playoff career high with 36 points in just 28 minutes, making 14 of 18 shots from the floor and adding eight rebounds. 

Embiid had 25 points and seven rebounds at the interval as Philadelphia built a comfortable lead before pulling away in the second half. 

Embiid's previous playoff career high was 34 against the Boston Celtics last season. 

Tobias Harris added 20 points, 13 rebounds and five assists, while Ben Simmons had 14 points and nine assists for the Sixers. 

Philadelphia made an impressive 58.6 per cent of their shots from the field (51 of 87) while limiting Washington to 38 of 96 shooting (39.6 per cent). 

Russell Westbrook led the Wizards with 26 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists while Bradley Beal scored 25. 

Game 4 is Monday in Washington. 

 

Giannis, Bucks sweep out Heat

The Milwaukee Bucks avenged last season's loss to Miami in the conference semi-finals by completing a four-game sweep of the Heat with a 120-103 victory. Milwaukee outscored Miami 64-39 in the second half to wrap up the series and will next face the winner of the Brooklyn Nets-Boston Celtics series. Giannis Antetokounmpo had his first playoff triple-double for the Bucks with 20 points, 12 rebounds and 15 assists, while Jimmy Butler turned in a quieter triple-double with 12 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists in a losing effort. It was the first playoff series since 2014 in which Butler failed to reach 20 points in at least one game. 

Donovan Mitchell and Mike Conley paced the top-seeded Utah Jazz to a 121-111 win over the Memphis Grizzlies, holding off a second-half surge from the underdogs. Mitchell scored 29 points and Conley had 27 points, six rebounds and eight assists for Utah as they took a 2-1 series lead. 

Norman Powell's 29 points led the Portland Trail Blazers past the Denver Nuggets 115-95 to level their series at 2-2. 

 

Nuggets' shooters nowhere to be found

The Nuggets had a rough shooting night all the way around in their loss to Portland. Denver made only 32 of 94 shots from the field (34 per cent), including just 13 of 44 (29.5 per cent) from three-point range, and Nikola Jokic led the scoring with just 16 points on seven of 18 shooting. 

 

Morant spins it in

Ja Morant put on a show in a losing effort for the Memphis Grizzlies, scoring 28 points to give him 101 in the series. Morant is the fourth player in NBA history to score at least 100 points over his first three playoff appearances and the first since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1970. Wilt Chamberlain and George Mikan are the other two. 

 

Saturday's results

Milwaukee Bucks 120-103 Miami Heat
Portland Trail Blazers 115-95 Denver Nuggets
Philadelphia 76ers 132-103 Washington Wizards
Utah Jazz 121-111 Memphis Grizzlies

 

Suns at Lakers

The Los Angeles Lakers look for a commanding 3-1 lead in their series against the Phoenix Suns after winning the last two games. 

Memphis Grizzlies point guard Ja Morant is not interested in records despite making history with 47 points in his side's 141-129 Game 2 defeat to the Utah Jazz on Wednesday.

The Jazz levelled their NBA first round playoffs series at 1-1 despite Morant's remarkable haul, with the 21-year-old having led the Grizzlies to victory in Game 1 with 26 points.

Morant became the second youngest player in playoffs history to score 45 or more points, behind only LeBron James in 2006 (45 points vs Washington).

It also meant Morant scored the most points all-time by a player aged 21 or younger in a playoff game, Stats Perform confirmed.

Asked about whether he takes anything from such records, Morant told a post-game news conference: "Not at all. I'm blessed to be in a position I'm in and to be able to play the game at the highest level, but that's not on my mind at all. We lost."

Utah led by 20 points at half-time on Wednesday but Morant and the Grizzlies fought back with a 43-29 third quarter, closing within two in the last, before falling short.

Morant was busy throughout, with 15-from-26 from the field, while he was fouled throughout including a few tangles with Jazz center Rudy Gobert, making 15-from-20 from the stripe.

"I'm not afraid," Morant said. "That's the job to protect the rim. My job when I'm attacking the rim is to go finish.

"He [Gobert] made a good block but as you'd seen throughout the game, I was right back in the paint."

Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell, who returned from an ankle injury with 25 points, was full of praise for Morant.

"Give credit to Ja, he had 50 [47]," Mitchell said post-game. "He's a hell of a player. I respect the hell out of his game.

"He fought but we fought. It's 1-1, they came here and stole one. We need to take care of business."

The series now moves to Memphis with back-to-back home games for the Grizzlies.

The Philadelphia 76ers are on track to advance to the Eastern Conference semi-finals after easing past the Washington Wizards in Game 2 of their NBA playoff matchup.

Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid combined to guide the 76ers – eyeing a first championship since 1983 – to a 120-95 rout of the Wizards in Philadelphia on Wednesday.

All-Star pair Simmons and Embiid both posted 22 points apiece as the top-ranked 76ers claimed a 2-0 series lead midweek.

It was Simmons' fourth career 20-plus point playoff game and his first since 2019, while it was Embiid's seventh consecutive 20-plus point playoff performance, dating back to 2019 – the streak tied with Allen Iverson for the 10th longest in Philadelphia postseason history.

As for Philadelphia's Matisse Thybulle, he became the first player in NBA history with four steals and five blocks in 20 or fewer minutes of any game, regular season or playoffs.

The game was marred by an unruly fan showering popcorn on Wizards star Russell Westbrook.

Westbrook had to be restrained after a fan in Philadelphia dumped popcorn on the former MVP as he exited the court with a right ankle injury.

Washington's Westbrook – who finished with 10 points, 11 assists and six rebounds before appearing to roll his ankle inside the final 10 minutes – was left seething at Wells Fargo Center, where Bradley Beal led the Wizards with a game-high 33 points.

 

Morant makes history but Jazz bounce back

Ja Morant had 47 points – the most in franchise history – but the Memphis Grizzlies still lost 141-129 to the top-seeded Utah Jazz, who levelled the Western Conference opening-round series at 1-1. Morant's 47 points are the most in playoff history by a player aged under 22, while the Grizzlies sensation is the second youngest player in league history to score 45-plus points in a postseason contest (21 years and 289 days), only behind LeBron James (21 years and 124 days in 2006). Donovan Mitchell (25 points) fuelled the Jazz in his return from an ankle injury, while Mike Conley (20 points and 15 assists) and Rudy Gobert (21 points and 13 rebounds) contributed double-doubles.

The New York Knicks won their first playoff game since 2013 after rallying to beat the Atlanta Hawks 101-92 in Game 2 of their Eastern Conference battle. Julius Randle's 15 points and 12 rebounds helped the Knicks level the series, despite 30 points from Hawks star Trae Young. Derrick Rose led the Knicks with 26 points off the bench.

 

Milton in game to forget

Usually a reliable contributor, Shake Milton struggled in Philadelphia's victory. Milton ended the game scoreless on 0-for-six shooting. He also had two turnovers off the bench.

 

Gobert says no!

There was no way past Jazz All-Star Gobert, who produced a monster block to thwart the Grizzlies in the second quarter.

 

Wednesday's results

Philadelphia 76ers 120-95 Washington Wizards
New York Knicks 101-92 Atlanta Hawks
Utah Jazz 141-129 Memphis Grizzlies

 

Suns at Lakers

Defending champions the Los Angeles Lakers will welcome the Phoenix Suns to Staples Center in LA on Thursday, with the Western Conference series locked at 1-1.

The Memphis Grizzlies did not follow the script in their shock 112-109 victory over the top-ranked Utah Jazz in the NBA playoffs, while the Philadelphia 76ers and Phoenix Suns drew first blood in their first-round openers.

Utah secured sole possession of the best record in the NBA for the first time in franchise history, having topped the Western Conference with a 52-20 record.

But in the continued absence of All-Star Donovan Mitchell (ankle), the Jazz were upstaged by the eighth-seeded Grizzlies in Sunday's opener on home court.

Dillon Brooks (31 points), Ja Morant (26 points) and Jonas Valanciunas (15 points and 13 rebounds) fuelled the visiting Grizzlies in Utah.

Brooks became the sixth player in the last 10 postseasons to score 30-plus points in his playoffs debut, joining Devin Booker (2021), Luka Doncic (2020), Kyrie Irving (2015), Anthony Davis (2015) and Damian Lillard (2014).

Kyle Anderson also registered a Grizzlies single-game playoff record with his six steals, surpassing the previous mark set by Mike Conley – who now plays for the Jazz – in 2013.

The Jazz were led by Bojan Bogdanovic (29 points), Conley (22 points and 11 assists) and Rudy Gobert (11 points and 15 rebounds).

 

Harris and Embiid flex muscles, Booker stars as Suns sizzle

Eastern Conference top seeds the 76ers overcame the Washington Wizards 125-118 in Game 1 of their first-round series. A playoff career-high 37 points from Tobias Harris set the tone, while MVP hopeful Joel Embiid had 30 points, six rebounds and three assists. Harris and Embiid became the first pair of 76ers to score 30-plus points in a playoff game in 31 years since Charles Barkley and Hersey Hawkins. All-Star team-mate Ben Simmons (six points, 15 rebounds and 15 assists) joined Hall of Famer Wilt Chamberlain as the only 76ers players ever with 15 rebounds and 15 assists in a playoff game. Double-doubles from Bradley Beal (33 points and 10 rebounds) and Russell Westbrook (16 points and 14 assists) were not enough for the eighth-ranked Wizards.

The Suns trumped defending champions the Los Angeles Lakers 99-90 behind Booker (34 points) and Deandre Ayton (21 points and 16 rebounds). Back in the playoffs for the first time since 2009-10, the Suns used a 32-25 opening quarter to see off the seventh seeds in the series opener in the west, despite Chris Paul's shoulder injury. LeBron James had 18 points and 10 assists in a double-double display for the Lakers.

 

Randle struggles

All eyes were on All-Star Julius Randle after leading the New York Knicks back to the postseason for the first time since 2012-13. While he collected 12 rebounds, Randle was far from his usual best in the 107-105 defeat to the Atlanta Hawks. Randle finished six-for-23 shooting for 15 points in 36 minutes. The Knicks star made just two of his six three-pointers.

Anthony Davis was five-for-16 shooting in a team-high 39 minutes of action as the Lakers star recorded just 13 points against the Suns. He missed both of his attempts from beyond the arc. As a team, the Lakers were just 26.9 per cent from the three-point line after Kentavious Caldwell-Pope made just one of his seven shots.

 

Ice Trae!

Trae Young was the hero for the Hawks, who edged the Knicks in their series opener at Madison Square Garden. Young nailed the game-winner with 0.9 seconds remaining to silence the New York crowd in a thriller between the fourth and fifth seeds in the east. The Hawks guard finished with 32 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds. According to Stats Perform, Young is the first NBA player to make a game-winning field goal in the final five seconds in his playoff debut since Dwyane Wade in 2004.

 

Sunday's results

Philadelphia 76ers 125-118 Washington Wizards
Phoenix Suns 99-90 Los Angeles Lakers
Atlanta Hawks 107-105 New York Knicks
Memphis Grizzlies 112-109 Utah Jazz

 

Heat at Bucks

Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks will look to extend their lead over the Miami Heat in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference first-round series on Monday.

A visibly disappointed Stephen Curry admits the Golden State Warriors missing the playoffs again was a "tough way" to end their amazing run but wants to keep sight of the bigger picture.

The Warriors won 15 of their last 20 regular-season matches, including eight of the last nine down the final stretch prior to the play-in tournament where they lost to the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday and were eliminated 117-112 in over-time by the Memphis Grizzlies on Friday.

Golden State misses the playoffs for a second straight season, but improved to 39-33 after finishing 15-50 last season, and Curry insisted major gains had been made, after being written off earlier in the season following their disastrous 2019-20 campaign.

"From 15 wins last year, injuries and all that, to what we made out of this year, it's pretty damn impressive," Curry said during his post-game video conference.

"It's a very tough way to go out. We would love to be playing on Sunday but you can't lose sight of the big picture in terms of where people had us at the start of the season, with youth, inexperience and line-up changes all year.

"We were two fourth quarters away from being a seventh or eighth seed. It's weird all the way around."

He added: "It's very unfamiliar territory obviously with the play-in and this being the end of the season. It's a very tough way to end it with these last two games coming down to the wire.

"I gave it everything in the tank. I'm proud of every single person in the Oakland uniform tonight and all season."

The 33-year-old shooting guard, who had a remarkable season averaging 32 points per game, added that the Warriors were "sick to their stomachs" post-game.

"We had a good little session in the locker room after the game where everybody was sick to their stomach disappointed this is the end and how you're going out," Curry said.

"It's okay to pat yourself on the back for doing something nobody thought we could do. I don’t think there's any moral victories, but we're proud of ourselves."

Meanwhile, Grizzlies 21-year-old point guard Ja Morant said his side are not fazed by being the youngest team to qualify for the NBA playoffs since the 2011 Oklahoma City Thunder side which included Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden.

Memphis qualify for the playoffs for the first time since 2016-17 as former 2019 number two draft pick Morant, 21, finished with 35 points, six assists and six rebounds.

"We just go out and battle. We know we're a young team," Morant told ESPN.

"We've got some vets who coach us up and lead us. Me being the point guard you have to be a leader. It's my first time making the playoffs but we have some guys who've been in the playoffs before and they’ll help us out."

Morant made two crucial floaters down the stretch to help the Grizzlies to their over-time victory after they blew a 10-point lead late in the fourth.

"That's the shots I want to take," he said. "I like when the pressure is on me. It lifts my game. I've got all the confidence in my game."

The young Memphis Grizzlies have knocked Stephen Curry's Golden State Warriors out of the NBA postseason and claimed the eighth seed in the West with a 114-109 over-time win on Friday.

The Grizzlies win through to play the Western Conference top seed Utah Jazz, although they blew a 10-point lead with three minutes to go before triumphing in over-time.

Golden State, who were one of the form teams late in the season, miss the playoffs for the second straight season, while the Grizzlies make their first playoffs since 2016-17.

Ja Morant starred with 35 points including two clutch floaters down the stretch, as well as six rebounds and six assists.

The 21-year-old point guard shot 14-from-29 from the field, including five of 10 from beyond the arc.

It was a big turnaround for Morant who shot one-for-six from three-point range in Sunday's 113-101 loss to the Warriors.

But Morant had great support, with Xavier Tillman (11 points and seven rebounds) draining a crucial three-pointer late as center Jonas Valanciunas had nine points and 12 rebounds before fouling out and Desmond Bane added 10 points including a decisive dunk.

Curry had 39 points for the Warriors, who trailed by 13 at the long interval and looked gone in the last before Draymond Green's back-to-back buckets and Jordan Poole's three put them ahead.

Green finished with 11 points, 16 rebounds and 10 assists, while Andrew Wiggins added 22 points and 10 rebounds but the Warriors were always playing catch-up.

The Warriors only managed 12-from-34 from three-point range with Curry defended well by Dillon Brooks, shooting six-from-15 from beyond the arc.

Golden State Warriors fans were on hand to witness another stellar Stephen Curry performance as the two-time NBA MVP helped take down Nikola Jokic's Denver Nuggets 118-97.

The Warriors welcomed fans back to Chase Center for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic began – 1,935 supporters in attendance 409 days later.

Those fortunate to be in the building on Friday saw Curry post 32 points on 11-for-18 shooting, with four three-pointers and eight rebounds.

Warriors superstar Curry finished with his 29th 30-point game of the season, his 12th 30-point effort in the last 13 games.

Draymond Green tied his career high with 19 assists and 12 rebounds, his 12th double-double of the season as Kelly Oubre Jr. added 23 points off the bench.

The visiting Nuggets were led by Michael Porter Jr. (26 points), while MVP candidate Jokic managed just 19 points, six rebounds and six assists.

 

Another Westbrook triple-double, another Wizards win

Russell Westbrook put up his fourth consecutive triple-double as the streaking Washington Wizards topped the Oklahoma City Thunder 129-109. In his return to Oklahoma City, former MVP Westbrook had 37 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists to guide the Wizards to a seventh straight victory. Westbrook has nine triple-doubles in his last 10 games and 20 in his past 30. Wizards team-mate Bradley Beal contributed 33 points.

Paul George's 33 points and 14 rebounds guided the Los Angeles Clippers past the lowly Houston Rockets 109-104. John Wall posted 27 points and 13 assists for the Rockets in Houston.

Ja Morant became the third player in NBA history to score 33-plus points while shooting 60-plus per cent from the field and 13-plus assists without committing a turnover, joining Baron Davis (2008) and John Stockton (1989). Morant's 33 points and 13 assists – the first player in franchise history to reach those numbers in the same game – helped the Memphis Grizzlies edge the Portland Trail Blazers 130-128. Jusuf Nurkic's double-double of 26 points and 17 rebounds was not enough for the Trail Blazers.

Jayson Tatum tallied 38 points and 10 rebounds, but the Boston Celtics still lost 109-104 to the injury-hit Brooklyn Nets, who moved top of the Eastern Conference.

 

Scoreless Iguodala

A three-time NBA champion, Andre Iguodala was scoreless in the Miami Heat's 118-103 defeat at the Atlanta Hawks. In 23 minutes, he was 0-for-four shooting, while missing all three of his attempts from beyond the arc.

The Clippers won but not before a woeful third quarter – scoring a season-low 11 points. The Clippers were five of 22 from the field and 0-for-six three-point shooting in the penultimate period against the Rockets.

 

Mike making plays

Mike James signed a 10-day contract with the Nets, having starred in Europe. The 30-year-old, who spent some time playing for the Phoenix Suns and New Orleans Pelicans previously, impressed against the Celtics with the pass-fake and sky-hook shot.

 

Friday's results

Atlanta Hawks 118-103 Miami Heat
Brooklyn Nets 109-104 Boston Celtics
Charlotte Hornets 108-102 Cleveland Cavaliers
Los Angeles Clippers 109-104 Houston Rockets
Washington Wizards 129-109 Oklahoma City Thunder
Golden State Warriors 118-97 Denver Nuggets
Memphis Grizzlies 130-128 Portland Trail Blazers

 

76ers at Bucks

The Philadelphia 76ers (39-20) will look to arrest a three-game losing streak and reclaim top spot in the east when they face Giannis Antetokounmpo (36-22) and the Milwaukee Bucks on Saturday.

Joel Embiid's return fuelled the Philadelphia 76ers' to a drought-ending 118-113 win over the Houston Rockets in the NBA on Wednesday.

Embiid had scored 35 points in back-to-back games before back tightness caused him to miss Monday's defeat to the high-flying Utah Jazz – a third straight loss – but the three-time All Star came back in style.

The star center claimed a 31-point, 11-rebound double-double, adding nine assists, as the 76ers dug deep against the Rockets to condemn Houston to a seventh defeat in a row midweek.

Philadelphia's win improved the 76ers to 19-10 atop of the Eastern Conference, while Western Conference leaders the Jazz extended their winning run to nine games with a 114-96 triumph against the Los Angeles Clippers.

The Jazz have won 20 of their past 21 games to set the pace in the NBA this season.

Elsewhere, the Portland Trail Blazers made it a 3-0 road trip with a 126-124 win against the New Orleans Pelicans as Damian Lillard scorched to 43 points and 16 assists after dropping the winning three-pointer in the final seconds.

Pelicans star Zion Williamson hit back with a career-high 36 points for the hosts, but Portland snatched a sixth consecutive win.

It wasn't the most celebrated or impactful trade of the Summer of 2019 – the newest gold banner that is waiting to be unveiled at the Staples Center answers that question.

Still, when browsing the current state of affairs in the Western Conference, it's hard to deny the significance of another deal that went down shortly after the franchise-defining blockbuster that landed Anthony Davis alongside LeBron James in Los Angeles and shifted the balance of power within the NBA.

With the aftershock of the Davis deal still reverberating, the Memphis Grizzlies were making a more under-the-radar move to set their own new course. Just days after the gigantic trade, Memphis sent the franchise's all-time leading scorer and arguably most popular player, Mike Conley, to the Utah Jazz, formally closing the door on the moderately successful 'Grit and Grind' era of the previous decade.

It's fair to say the trade is working out quite well for both teams, though. The Jazz presently sport the NBA's best record at 16-5 with Conley superbly manning the point following a somewhat trying first season in Salt Lake City. The Grizzlies currently stand as the surprise leader of a suspect Southwest Division and are seemingly well ahead of schedule on a rebuilding plan young general manager Zach Kleiman has so far orchestrated with a master stroke.

Memphis' swift rise to respectability was hard to see coming, and neither was the considerable effect so far generated by a trade centered around a player who has never made an All-Star team in 13 NBA seasons. That may change in Conley's 14th, however. The 33-year-old has been a major force on both ends of the court in what has been a terrific bounce-back campaign to date, as his 124.2 offensive rating is the highest of his career and his 2.35 steals per 48 minutes is his best mark since making the NBA All-Defensive Team in 2012-13. 

Perhaps most importantly, however, is how the Jazz have performed with Conley on the court as opposed to him off it. The veteran point guard's plus-minus rating of 11.0 per game trails only Clippers star Kawhi Leonard for the best in the league among players averaging at least 15 minutes per outing and who have appeared in at least half of their team's games, and the following chart illustrates how much better Utah has been when Conley is on the floor: 

JAZZ, WITH/WITHOUT MIKE CONLEY ON COURT, 2020-21 

With/Without stats (/100 = per 100 possessions) 

Points/100: 116.5/108.8 
Opp Points/100: 99.9/113.8 
Point Diff/100: +16.6/-5.0
FG Pct: .470/.444 
Opp FG Pct: .427/.475 
Turnovers/100: 13.4/16.6 

Conley's presence also allows Donovan Mitchell, Utah's leading scorer and their highest usage player, to play more off the ball where he is most effective, as the numbers demonstrate: 

DONOVAN MITCHELL, WITH/WITHOUT MIKE CONLEY ON COURT, 2020-21 

With/Without stats (/100 = per 100 possessions) 

Points/100: 35.0/32.9 
Rebounds/100: 6.8/5.5 
Assists/100: 5.4/8.1 
Turnovers/100: 3.5/5.7 
FG Pct: .451/.409 
3-Pt Pct: .446/.343 

With Conley playing at an elite level and a pair of All-Stars in Mitchell and two-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert, the question can now be raised: Have the Jazz finally achieved the status of a legitimate challenger to the West's upper crust after four years of consistently winning in the regular season but never seriously threatening in the playoffs? 

Quite possibly. 

The Jazz are the only team that currently ranks in the NBA's top five in both offensive and defensive rating. They have never finished a season higher than ninth in the former category under coach Quin Snyder, but there is reason to believe this team differs from its predecessors. It has been hitting 3-pointers at a historic rate (16.9 per game) with both impressive efficiency (39.8 percent) and variety. Six of the Jazz's top seven scorers are shooting better than 38 percent from beyond the arc while taking at least four attempts per game, the most in the league. 

Only one team in NBA history has shot 40 percent or better from 3-point range while making 12 or more 3s per game, and that is the 2015-16 Warriors that set an NBA record with 73 regular-season wins. Granted, there are three other teams that currently fall under that category this season, and they are all pretty good as well: The Clippers, Bucks and Nets. 

So, we have discussed how the Conley trade has benefited the Jazz. How about the Grizzlies, who received Jae Crowder, Kyle Korver, Grayson Allen, a 2019 first-round pick and a future first-rounder in the deal? 

Korver was immediately traded to Phoenix in a swap that brought back De'Anthony Melton, Memphis' best wing defender, and a 2020 second-round pick that turned into center Xavier Tillman, who has quickly emerged as a solid rotational piece as a rookie.

Crowder was later shipped to Miami, with capable veteran Gorgui Dieng and the still-injured Justise Winslow the return.

Last year's first-rounder was ultimately used on Brandon Clarke, one of only five players from the 2019 class to average 12 points and 5.5 rebounds per game through his first season-plus.

All told, that is five viable contributors (Clarke, Allen, Dieng, Melton, Tillman) and a possible sixth if Winslow can ever get healthy. And Melton may have a chance to be something more than that if he continues to make strides with his still-developing shot.

And we have yet to mention the primary motive for moving Conley, which was to clear a path at the point guard spot for the electric Ja Morant. Though Memphis was able to go 4-4 in the eight games the 2019-20 NBA Rookie of the Year missed with a sprained ankle earlier this season thanks to the enviable depth Kleiman has assembled, there is no question the Grizzlies are a more dangerous team with the 2019 No. 2 overall pick in the lineup.

Here are the numbers to back it up: The Grizzlies average 117.4 points with him, compared to 103.1 in his absence. Their field goal percentage (.479 compared to .451) and 3-point percentage (.381 compared to .331) are also unsurprisingly better, while the turnovers drop by just over one per game (13.5 with him, 14.9 without).

If the Grizzlies could maintain that points-per-game average throughout the season, they would rank third in the league behind only the power-laden Nets and Bucks. Combine it with their other strengths, an opportunistic defense that leads the NBA in steals per game and a rotation that boasts a league-high 11 players averaging 8.0 points or more (min. 50 percent of team’s games played), and it is no stretch to proclaim they will be a formidable playoff foe for any team should they get in – especially if budding star Jaren Jackson Jr. makes it back from the knee injury that has sidelined him all season thus far. 

Memphis are still not ready to realistically threaten the league's championship contenders, but there is a lot to like about this team going forward. The Grizzlies have one bona fide star in Morant, a potential second in Jackson and a young and promising supporting cast – most of whom are under contract for at least two more years. They are also set up to be flush in cap space and a potential dark horse player in free agency come the 2021 offseason.

The Grizzlies have the NBA's third-youngest roster, its youngest GM in Kleiman and third-youngest head coach in 36-year-old Taylor Jenkins. It looks like their rebuild is maturing beyond its years , too.

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