2023 In-Season Tournament

In-Season Tournament: West Group A preview

The Grizzlies, Suns, Lakers, Blazers and Jazz are set to compete in West Group A during the In-Season Tournament.

The In-Season Tournament groups for the Western Conference are announced.

We continue our breakdowns of the inaugural In-Season Tournament groups with West Group A.

East Group A | East Group B | East Group C | West Group A | West Group B | West Group C

This group consists of three playoff teams from 2023: No. 2 seed Memphis (eliminated in first round), No. 4 seed Phoenix (eliminated in conference semifinals) and No. 7 seed Los Angeles Lakers (eliminated in conference finals).

However, it was the Portland Trail Blazers that had the best record in head-to-head matchups among the five teams in this group last season.

In 2022-23, the Blazers went 8-6 and won the season series against Phoenix and Utah, tying their series with the Lakers and losing only to the Grizzlies. The .171 win percentage difference between the top team (Portland at .571) and the bottom team (Utah at .400) is the smallest of any group in the In-Season Tournament.

West Group A

Team vs LAL vs MEM vs PHX vs POR vs UTA TOTAL WIN%
Portland Trail Blazers 2-2 1-2 2-1 x 3-1 8-6 0.571
Los Angeles Lakers x 2-1 2-2 2-2 2-2 8-7 0.533
Memphis Grizzlies 1-2 x 2-2 2-1 2-2 7-7 0.500
Phoenix Suns 2-2 2-2 x 1-2 2-1 7-7 0.500
Utah Jazz 2-2 2-2 1-2 1-3 x 6-9 0.400

Below is a closer look at each team in West Group A and how their offseason has fared to date.

Portland Trail Blazers

Portland Trail Blazers GM Joe Cronin says 'If it takes months, then it takes months' to fulfill Damian Lillard's trade request.

There is no bigger question hanging over the Trail Blazers — or the entire NBA, for that matter — than how the Damian Lillard trade request will play out over the coming weeks or months. After 11 seasons in Portland, the 33-year-old guard has requested a trade as the Blazers start a youth movement with the selection of Scoot Henderson as the No. 3 overall pick in the 2023 NBA Draft.

While Lillard has reportedly stated his preference of going to the Miami Heat, it remains to be seen if a deal that satisfies both sides can be worked out. If the Blazers are willing to wait for a trade haul worthy of the seven-time All-Star, he could start the season in Portland and perhaps help the Blazers during group play.

Nonetheless, Portland’s future will be on display as Anfernee Simons and Shaedon Sharpe look to showcase improvements in their game, while veteran Jerami Grant seeks to prove his value after re-signing on a lucrative five-year deal.

Offseason summary (as of July 28)

  • Players re-signed: Ibou Badji, John Butler Jr., Jerami Grant, Matisse Thybulle
  • Players added (via free agency): None
  • Players added (via trade): None
  • Players added (via 2023 NBA Draft): Scoot Henderson (No. 3 overall), Kris Murray (No. 23), Rayan Rupert (No. 43)
  • Players lost: Drew Eubanks (signed with Suns), Cam Reddish (signed with Lakers), Trendon Watford (waived)
  • Remaining free agents: Kevin Knox II (UFA), Justise Winslow (UFA)

Los Angeles Lakers

Lakers GM Rob Pelinka is excited about the new additions to the team's core.

Following an active trade deadline, the Lakers posted the best record in the Western Conference (18-9) after remaking much of their roster. They won the No. 7 vs. No. 8 AT&T Play-In Tournament game to secure the No. 7 seed; they made a run to the Western Conference Finals before being eliminated by the eventual champion Denver Nuggets.

In the offseason, the Lakers re-signed Austin Reaves, Rui Hachimura and D’Angelo Russell while adding Gabe Vincent, Jaxson Hayes, Taurean Prince and Cam Reddish as free agents.

As always, the health and availability of Anthony Davis and LeBron James will be key as the Lakers’ roster was built to complement them. With group play early in the season, the odds of having a healthy Davis and James are better before the wear and tear of the 82-game season really kicks in.

Offseason summary (as of July 28)

  • Players re-signed: Rui Hachimura, Austin Reaves, D’Angelo Russell
  • Players added (via free agency): Jaxson Hayes, Taurean Prince, Cam Reddish, Gabe Vincent
  • Players added (via trade): None
  • Players added (via 2023 NBA Draft): Jalen Hood-Schifino (No. 17), Maxwell Lewis (No. 40)
  • Players lost: Mo Bamba (signed with 76ers), Malik Beasley (signed with Bucks), Troy Brown Jr. (signed with Wolves), Shaquille Harrison (waived), Dennis Schroder (signed with Raptors), Lonnie Walker IV (signed with Nets)
  • Remaining free agents: Wenyen Gabriel (UFA), Scotty Pippen Jr. (UFA; two-way), Tristan Thompson (UFA)

Memphis Grizzlies

How will Marcus Smart fit in alongside Ja Morant on the Grizzlies?

After a first-round playoff exit as the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference, the Memphis Grizzlies were active in the offseason to make adjustments to their young and talented roster.

The first move came on the eve of the 2023 NBA Draft as the Grizzlies acquired Marcus Smart from Boston as part of a three-team deal with Washington that saw the Grizzlies give up Tyus Jones (to Washington) and a pair of first-round Draft picks (to Boston).

Memphis finished last season with the third-ranked defense in the league (110.7 points allowed per 100 possessions) and now pairs the 2022 Kia Defensive Player of the Year in Smart with the reigning DPOY in Jaren Jackson Jr.

The addition of Smart helps offset the loss of Dillon Brooks – a 2023 All-Defensive Second Team selection – who was sent to Houston as part of a sign-and-trade deal involving five teams. The Grizzlies also re-signed Desmond Bane to a multi-year deal.

The new-look Grizzlies will be without Ja Morant for all of group play as the All-Star guard serves a 25-game suspension. Over the past two seasons, the Grizzlies have proven they can win both with Morant (76-43, .644 win percentage) and without Morant (31-15, .673). Can they do so again and make some noise in the In-Season Tournament?

Offseason summary (as of July 28)

  • Players re-signed: Desmond Bane, Xavier Tillman (opted in)
  • Players added (via free agency): Derrick Rose
  • Players added (via trade): Josh Christopher (from Rockets), Marcus Smart (from Celtics), Isaiah Todd (from Suns)
  • Players added (via 2023 NBA Draft): Gregory Jackson II (No. 45), Tarik Biberovic (No. 56)
  • Players lost: Dillon Brooks (traded to Rockets), Tyus Jones (traded to Wizards)
  • Remaining free agents: None

Phoenix Suns

The Suns officially introduce 3-time All-Star Bradley Beal to Phoenix.

New owner Mat Ishbia has made his presence felt with the Suns. On his second day as the team’s new owner, he OK’d the biggest move of the 2023 trade deadline: acquiring Kevin Durant.

Ishbia kept those splashy ways going in the offseason, pulling off the biggest summer move so far: getting Bradley Beal in a three-team trade involving the Washington Wizards and Indiana Pacers that saw star guard Chris Paul moved. The deal gives the Suns a big three of Durant, Beal and Devin Booker that will pack an incredible offensive punch.

The Suns spent the free agency period building out the rest of the roster and, on paper, the Suns have to be considered among the West favorites in 2023-24. Health will be the main concern as Durant and Beal have both missed time the past few seasons. Assuming the Suns open the season healthy and can incorporate Beal and the rest of their additions quickly, they could be a force in group play.

Offseason summary (as of July 28)

  • Players re-signed: Damion Lee, Josh Okogie, Ish Wainright (opted in)
  • Players added (via free agency): Keita Bates-Diop, Drew Eubanks, Eric Gordon, Chimeze Metu, Yuta Watanabe
  • Players added (via trade): Bradley Beal (from Wizards), Jordan Goodwin (from Wizards)
  • Players added (via 2023 NBA Draft): Toumani Camara (No. 52)
  • Players lost: Darius Bazley (signed with Nets), Torrey Craig (signed with Bulls), Jock Landale (signed with Rockets), Chris Paul (traded to Wizards, then traded to Warriors), Landry Shamet (traded to Wizards), Isaiah Todd (traded to Wizards, then traded to Grizzlies)
  • Remaining free agents: Bismack Biyombo (UFA), Saben Lee (RFA; two-way), Terrence Ross (UFA), T.J. Warren (UFA)

Utah Jazz

Center Walker Kessler talks about his rookie season and his outlook for 2023-24 in Utah.

The Jazz were one of the best stories of 2022-23 as they got off to a fast start after trading a pair of All-Stars in Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell. Lauri Markkanen established himself as an All-Star, Walker Kessler proved to be one of the league’s top rookies and the Jazz found themselves ahead of schedule on a rebuild that comes after losing All-NBA talent.

While Utah was unable to sustain that run in the back half of the season and failed to make the postseason, there are positive signs. The Jazz retained guards Jordan Clarkson and Talen Horton-Tucker and added forward John Collins in a trade with the Atlanta Hawks. The Jazz had two of the top 16 picks in the Draft, adding Taylor Hendricks and Keyonte George, with George earning first-team honors at the NBA 2K24 Summer League.

Offseason summary (as of July 28)

  • Players re-signed: Jordan Clarkson, Talen Horton-Tucker (opted in)
  • Players added (via free agency): None
  • Players added (via trade): John Collins (from Hawks)
  • Players added (via 2023 NBA Draft): Taylor Hendricks (No. 9), Keyonte George (No. 16), Brice Sensabaugh (No. 28)
  • Players lost: Vernon Carey Jr. (waived), Rudy Gay (traded to Hawks), Damian Jones (traded to Cavs)
  • Remaining free agents: Udoka Azubuike (UFA), Johnny Juzang (RFA; two-way), John Toscano-Anderson (UFA)

Key Matchups to Watch

Below are a handful of intriguing matchups to be played out in West Group A.

Grizzlies vs. Lakers, Nov. 14
(10:30 p.m. ET, NBA League Pass)

We have to begin with the playoff rematch between the Lakers and Grizzlies – the No. 7 seed Lakers took down the No. 2 seed Grizzlies in six games (and the clinching Game 6 was a blow-out win). We have to assume the Grizzlies will put forth a much stronger effort when these teams first meet in 2023-24.

While the final meeting was not close, the Lakers and Grizzlies did have two tightly contested games that both went the Lakers’ way.

The first came in the regular season, as the Lakers rallied from a 13-point deficit late in the third quarter to steal the game in the final seconds and snap an 11-game Grizzlies win streak. The second came in Game 4 of their first-round series as the Lakers forced overtime on a James layup with less than a second to play, then closed out the Grizzlies in overtime to take a 3-1 series lead.

Blazers vs. Lakers, Nov. 17
(10 ET, NBA League Pass)

An early-season matchup between the Blazers and Lakers saw Lillard drop 41 points and Grant hit a game-winning layup with three seconds left to lift the Blazers to a 3-0 start and drop the Lakers to 0-3 ahead of a 2-10 L.A. start to 2022-23.

Blazers vs. Suns, Nov. 21
(9 ET, NBA League Pass)

The Lakers weren’t the only team that Grant gave a game-winning bucket to last season. In a Nov. 4 game without Lillard or Simons, Grant delivered with a fadeaway jumper on the baseline to give the Blazers a two-point win. This was the second game of the season between these teams decided by two points.

Suns vs. Jazz, Nov. 17
(10 ET, ESPN)

The first two meetings between the Suns and Jazz last season were each decided by a single point. The Jazz win saw Markkanen drop a then career-best 38 points (a mark he would top three times last season), while the Phoenix’s win saw Deandre Ayton post his third career 20-point, 20-rebound game. Of course, both of those games were before Durant arrived, and now the Suns also feature Beal and a new supporting cast.

Grizzlies vs. Jazz, Nov. 10
(8 ET, NBA League Pass)

Three of the four meetings between the Grizzlies and Jazz last season were decided by six points or less, including a one-point game in their first matchup of the season. That game, which Utah won 124-123 at home, saw both teams feature three players with 20 or more points. Additionally, the Grizzlies played without Morant, who averaged 28.5 ppg in two games against Utah last season.

Lakers vs. Suns, Nov. 10
(10 ET, ESPN)

All four games last season between the Lakers and Suns were decided by double digits, with the Suns winning the first two by a combined 36 points and the Lakers winning the final two by a combined 25 points. However, this matchup has to be listed here for one simple reason: can we finally get a LeBron vs. Durant game?

It has been more than five years since two of the game’s marquee superstars have faced one another. These two have not played against one another since Game 4 of the 2018 NBA Finals when Durant and the Warriors swept James and the Cavs in what was his final game with Cleveland.

LeBron has spent five seasons with the Lakers and has yet to face Durant, who has played for three teams during that time — he had one season in Golden State, two-plus seasons in Brooklyn and half a season (roughly) in Phoenix. Will we finally get that matchup in group play of the In-Season Tournament?


Lakers edge out Suns

LeBron James and Anthony Davis seem poised to guide the Lakers back toward the postseason.

Assuming each team in the group opens the season healthy, my choice is for the Lakers to emerge out of Group A, with the Suns as the team with the best chance at a wild card spot.

The Lakers were the best team in the West after last season’s trade deadline and kept the core of their team together entering the new season. A refreshed supporting cast, along with a healthy James and Davis to start the season, makes the Lakers the favorites in Group A.

Phoenix may take some time to decipher how to incorporate Beal and its other new additions into the mix (plus, it also has a new coach in Frank Vogel).

Memphis will play the entire group phase of the In-Season Tournament without Morant. The Grizzlies have proven they can win without him, but they’ll be doing so with a tweaked supporting cast after dealing for Smart (and dealing away Brooks).

Portland has too many question marks to predict how they’ll fare in the group phase. Will they trade Lillard before training camp? Will Lillard come to camp and play? Or will they hold him out while they pursue deals? And, how ready is Henderson to contribute?

Can Utah have another fast start to the season and be a surprise team that makes a run during group play? They certainly could, but they are facing some tough competition in this group and didn’t address their backcourt needs after last season’s second-half fade.