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Memphis Grizzlies see benefits of NBA play-in tournament as LeBron James criticizes it

Commercial Appeal Memphis logo Commercial Appeal Memphis 5/3/2021 Evan Barnes, Memphis Commercial Appeal
a person holding a basketball: Memphis Grizzlies forward Brandon Clarke defends a shot by Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James during their game at the FedExForum on Tuesday Jan. 5, 2021. © Joe Rondone/The Commercial Appeal Memphis Grizzlies forward Brandon Clarke defends a shot by Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James during their game at the FedExForum on Tuesday Jan. 5, 2021.

The Memphis Grizzlies are staring at another chance to reach the NBA play-in tournament. But the tournament gained another detractor in Lakers All-Star LeBron James.

James criticized the format after the Lakers lost Sunday to the Toronto Raptors and dropped to the No. 6 seed, tied with the Dallas Mavericks and Portland Trail Blazers.

"Whoever came up with that (expletive) needs to be fired," James said. 

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The Grizzlies have benefited from the format that was announced after the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the season a year ago. They qualified for the play-in but lost to the Portland Trail Blazers reached the tournament last season inside the NBA bubble. As the No. 8 seed entering Monday's games, they're poised do it again.

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Coach Taylor Jenkins said in April the tournament was awesome for the Grizzlies and creates both excitement and competition around the league. De'Anthony Melton took a similar view on Monday.

"It is what it is, honestly. We can't change it. We can't affect it. Whatever spot we get to, we just got to control our own destiny," Melton said. 

In its second year, the tournament has added high-profile detractors as much as fans who praise it. Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and All-Star guard Luka Doncic criticized the format in April with Cuban upset teams couldn't rest players down the stretch. Doncic hated how the success of a team's 72-game regular season would be determined by two games.

What do Cuban, Doncic and now James have in common? They spoke up once their teams became play-in contenders. When Cuban and Doncic made their comments, Dallas was the No. 7 seed.

But for the Grizzlies, the race for the play-in tournament has sped up their development. As one of the NBA's youngest teams, playing meaningful games late in the season has given fans hope for the present, not just the future.

Melton said it's added greater urgency to win as many games as they can to help their seeding. Desmond Bane added it brought more excitement as his rookie season winds down.

"I think it's something that will bring great experience and something that myself and our organization will be able to build off of in the future," he said. "The work is not done. We still have two weeks left to solidify ourselves, and I'm looking forward to it."

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You can reach Evan Barnes on Twitter (@Evan_B) or by email at evan.barnes@commercialappeal.com

This article originally appeared on Memphis Commercial Appeal: Memphis Grizzlies see benefits of NBA play-in tournament as LeBron James criticizes it

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