NBA round-up: Ja Morant's Memphis Grizzlies staking a claim in the West

It's time for Planet Sport's monthly catch-up with NBA juggernaut as it rumbles through the 2021/22 season.

Ja Morant has been electrifying for the Grizzlies over the last month, whilst the Nets will look to compete without their main man Kevin Durant.

Here's Planet Sport's latest monthly bitesize round-up of all the NBA action.

Morant leads in-form Grizzlies

Since Christmas, it is safe to say that the Memphis Grizzlies have been the best team in the NBA.

Taylor Jenkins' men enjoyed an 11-game win streak, including victories versus the Suns, Nets, Warriors, Lakers (x2) and Cavaliers. Saturday's loss against Dallas was their first since December 24, and they instantly bounced back, defeating the impressive Chicago Bulls 119-106 on Monday.

Unsurprisingly, Ja Morant has been the catalyst in Memphis' form.

He is averaging over 24 points this season and has electrified fans with his acrobatic dunks, layups and playmaking. In the one-point win over the Suns, the 22-year-old point guard dropped 33 points, before scoring 41 against the Lakers, 30 against the Spurs and 36 on championship favourites Brooklyn Nets.

Excluding Saturday's defeat against the Mavericks, the Grizzlies have been losing with a lot more dignity recently.

Prior to the winning run, their four most recent defeats all came by single digits; their last single-digit loss before this came in the third match of the season. In between they had lost by 43 to the Milwaukee Bucks, 32 to the Atlanta Hawks, 25 to the Phoenix Suns, 28 to the Washington Wizards and 26 to the Miami Heat.

The point being that Memphis are now competing on a nightly basis, which will set them up very nicely for the playoffs.

In terms of actually competing for the title, this team are a long way off, but they are very fun to watch, and that's the most important thing...I think.

From Dallas to Utah, the West is stacked with contenders

Nearly every team in the Western Conference has a superstar on their roster, or at least a potential superstar - Anthony Edwards in Minnesota and Zion Williamson in New Orleans both spring to mind.

The Suns, Grizzlies and Golden State Warriors currently set the pace, but the Utah Jazz are not too far off. Their consistency over the last few seasons as well as the constant improvement of Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert makes them a very serious contender. But, a failed post-season run in 2021/22 could derail this team. This season is their best chance to reach the Finals yet.

After a shaky start to the season, the Dallas Mavericks have picked up. They have won nine of their last ten and sit in fifth-place. Luka Doncic is not at his best this season, which could be due to his long 20/21 campaign followed by a summer representing Slovenia at the Olympics, or perhaps he is saving himself for when it really matters.

Either way, for the Mavs to be sat safely in fifth without their star man hitting his usual heights is a good achievement.

Denver Nuggets are still without Jamal Murray, but Nikola Jokic continues to successfully carry the burden of being the lone star in the team. He is now averaging 25.3 points, 13.9 rebounds and 7.4 assists per game, and is still in the mix to retain his MVP crown.

The Los Angeles Lakers are as expected, discombobulated.

LeBron James has been on fire and is almost single-handedly fighting for the Lakers' playoff spot. Russell Westbrook's dunk on Gobert on Monday was a nice throwback and something neutral fans probably loved to see, seeing as it was the Frenchman who was put on that filthy poster.

This team is still a contender, they have LeBron, Westbrook and Anthony Davis after all, but it is hard to see them overcoming numerous West teams that have been together for a while.

Their city rival Clippers will be hoping for a Kawhi Leonard comeback ASAP. If he doesn't return at 100 per cent in time for the playoffs/play-in tournament, they are screwed. No disrespect to Paul George, who is having a decent season as the number one option.

Of course the Warriors and Suns will fancy their chances. Klay Thompson finally returned for Golden State, who are still without James Wiseman. Phoenix are very good. Chris Paul is still going strong at 36 years old, and may never be able to sleep at night again if he doesn't finally get a ring this season.

Sitting on the fence and stating how amazing everyone is, is pretty shameful. It is between the Jazz, Suns and Warriors for the Finals, either will make it a great series when they lose to the Nets.

Nets to wrap Kevin Durant in cotton wool

Durant is out until at least the All-Star break, where he will probably be a captain for the showpiece All-Star game.

When he returns, Steve Nash should use KD wisely, they really need him to be healthy in the playoffs. He currently leads the league in scoring (29.3 PPG) and is arguably the best player in the world.

Kyrie Irving's vaccination status continues to be a huge talking point. He is back now, but can't play any home games. Thankfully for Nash and Irving, 16 of their next 21 games are on the road, so the point guard should be able to find some rhythm.

Brooklyn have the seventh-best record in the league, which isn't a worry. Durant with only one of James Harden and Irving should be enough to win the championship come to the playoffs. If it's only Harden and Irving, however, that's a different story. Only Durant will also result in no title.

Cavaliers continue to surprise as best of the rest

The Eastern Conference is similar to the West in that it is competitive, but it is hard to define many of the teams in the East as contenders.

The Bulls remain on top, but have only won five of their last ten matches. People didn't write them off at the start of the season after their tremendous work in the off-season, but their super start has still been a surprise.

Zach LaVine and Demar DeRozan have formed a nice dynamic duo, but fans will be eager to see what they can do in the playoffs. DeRozan doesn't have the best post-season reputation and LaVine will make his playoff debut in a few months time.

The only Eastern contenders are the Nets and Bucks. It will be one of these two teams in the Finals.

Keeping Giannis Antetokounmpo healthy is obviously the Bucks' priority, and his presence gives them the edge over the other teams fighting at the top of the conference.

A bad injury to either him and Durant opens the door for the likes of the Heat and Bulls, however.

Joel Embiid and the Philadelphia 76ers will obviously believe they can be successful, but with the Ben Simmons situation unresolved, they won't get close to the Larry O'Brien Trophy.

Perhaps surprisingly, the Cleveland Cavaliers are having a terrific season.

Darius Garland is close to averaging 20 points a night, Jarrett Allen is a solid center and Evan Mobley is enjoying a great rookie year. They have no chance of being champions, but this form is a great sign for the Cavs, who will be optimistic about experiencing some success in the coming years.

Lamelo Ball continues to impress in Charlotte for the Hornets, the Wizards will be keen to rediscover their terrific form from the start of the season, whereas the New York Knicks and Atlanta Hawks simply must do better; especially considering how great their 20/21 campaigns were.

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