With a series of injuries seemingly behind them, the Memphis Grizzlies are showing why they might be the team to beat in the Western Conference.
Memphis carries a season-high, eight-game winning streak into its matchup against the Indiana Pacers on Saturday in Indianapolis.
Ja Morant is averaging 27.6 points and 7.9 assists for the Grizzlies, who are a half-game behind the first-place Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference standings.
Memphis is 28-13 despite missing several key players due to injury during the first half of the season. The team’s full starting lineup didn’t play together until Dec. 23.
After missing two games earlier this week because of right thigh soreness, Morant scored 38 points in the Grizzlies’ 135-129 win over the visiting San Antonio Spurs on Wednesday.
“Obviously, we’re definitely in a good position,” Morant said. “We have had a lot of guys out, so that’s the good thing for us, still being (near the) top of the conference. I still feel like we need to be a little more locked in and paying attention to detail.”
Grizzlies guard Desmond Bane averages 21.2 points and is returning to his home state to face the Pacers, who will be short-handed again on Saturday.
Point guard Tyrese Haliburton is expected to be out at least two weeks with a left knee bruise and left elbow strain, while center Myles Turner will miss his third straight game with back spasms.
Forward Aaron Nesmith sat out the past two games due to a non-COVID illness and is listed as day-to-day.
With three starters out, Indiana coach Rick Carlisle is giving extra minutes to several reserves, including Isaiah Jackson and Jalen Smith, along with rookies Andrew Nembhard and Bennedict Mathurin.
“This is a great opportunity for our younger players,” Carlisle said. “You’re going to see some lineups that we probably haven’t seen all year. This really puts some of our young guys front and center. I’m looking forward to seeing how we respond.”
The Pacers lost their second straight game on Friday when John Collins scored with less than a second left to give the Atlanta Hawks a 113-111 victory in Indianapolis.
Mathurin made his third start of the season and delivered with 26 points on 9-of-18 shooting. The Arizona product is averaging 18.2 points over his past six games.
“Mathurin has a veteran-type toughness and consistency and belief,” Carlisle said. “The reason why he believes so strongly in his game is because he works so hard on his game. He’s getting better and better.”
The Pacers lost both meetings against Memphis last season and will need to find a way to slow down Morant, who has scored at least 32 points in four of his past five games.
Memphis coach Taylor Jenkins is monitoring the status of Dillon Brooks (right ankle soreness) and Brandon Clarke (left hip soreness), who are both listed as questionable.
If either is forced to miss the game, the Grizzlies likely will ask for more from their star point guard. Morant proved he is up to the task again on Wednesday, when he shot 14 of 25 from the field in the win over San Antonio.
“He was huge for us,” Jenkins said. “When he gets to his spots and he plays at that level, it’s really important to us.”
–Field Level Media