A long road trip usually isn't ideal for any basketball team, but doing it during a pandemic makes it even tougher for the players because of the restrictions the NBA has put in place to minimize the chances of coronavirus outbreaks.
The Memphis Grizzlies are embracing the road during their longest trip in two decades. Memphis started its seven-game trip with wins over Chicago and Milwaukee on consecutive nights and will try to make it three in a row vs. the Denver Nuggets on Monday night.
It is a crucial stretch for the Grizzlies, who sit in eighth place in the loaded Western Conference with 17 games remaining, and the players say they are ready for the challenge.
"We're the road warriors," rookie Xavier Tillman said after Saturday night's 128-115 win over the Bucks. "That's our thing. That's our motto. Road warriors. We walk in your trap and take over your trap."
Memphis has won seven of its past 10 but faces a brutal string of games on the end of the trip. The Grizzlies will play the Los Angeles Clippers on Wednesday, followed by two games in Portland, and they'll wrap things up with another game in Denver on April 26.
Starting with Monday, the five games come against teams ahead of Memphis in the standings, and picking off a couple of wins would help the Grizzlies hold onto a playoff spot.
"I just know we have guys that are competitive," Memphis' Grayson Allen said. "When you get on the road and things get tough, everyone on our team raises our level and we come out with a lot of fight."
The Nuggets are fighting through the loss of Jamal Murray, who tore the ACL in his left knee last week and is out for the season. Denver has won two straight without its point guard and continues to make a push for home-court advantage in the playoffs.
The Nuggets have tried to make up for Murray with a group effort, and it has worked for two games. Monte Morris has moved into the starting lineup, and Facundo Campazzo has an increased role coming off the bench.
But all things with Denver run through All-Star center Nikola Jokic, who is considered the front-runner for the league's MVP award.
Jokic leads the Nuggets in scoring (26.1 points a game), rebounding (11.0) and assists (8.8) and has not missed a game this season.
With Murray out, the Nuggets have looked for someone else to be the No. 2 option on offense, and Michael Porter Jr. has stepped up. Porter is averaging 17.6 points and 7.7 rebounds a game. He has been even better in April, averaging 21.9 points and 8.7 rebounds.
Porter has recorded a double-double in seven of the past 11 games.
"Overall, we've been playing good basketball the last few games," Porter said after a 29-point win at Houston on Friday night. "We've definitely got to up it, especially without Jamal because he's such a big part of the team."
--Field Level Media