Nuggets, Grizzlies clash hoping to seize West

Golden State is struggling to reach .500, the Los Angeles Lakers lost Anthony Davis to another injury and the Phoenix Suns have lost six of their last nine games.

The teams that have won the Western Conference the last eight years are looking vulnerable and there are young squads ready to step into the void. Two of them meet Tuesday night when the Memphis Grizzlies visit the Denver Nuggets.

Memphis sits atop the West after winning seven in a row before losing at Oklahoma City on Saturday night to open a four-game road trip. The Grizzlies are a game ahead of Denver, which has kept pace despite having played the fewest home games (12) than any other team in the West except Sacramento, which hosts Charlotte Monday night — breaking the tie.

Both the Grizzlies and Nuggets brings superstars into the first of three meetings between the squads on Tuesday. Ja Morant leads the Grizzlies in scoring (26.7 points per game) and assists (7.7) and has a solid supporting cast in Jaren Jackson Jr., Dillon Brooks and Desmond Bane, although Bane (24.7 ppg in 12 games) has not played in five weeks due to a toe injury.

Most nights Morant is the one leading the team, but he wasn’t around for the second half of the loss at the Thunder after getting his second technical with 43 seconds left in the second quarter.

Losing to an undermanned Oklahoma City team was a step back after beating the Eastern Conference-leading Milwaukee Bucks by 41 points two nights earlier, but it hasn’t hurt the team’s confidence.

“When teams face us, they’ve got to be ready to come out and play,” Morant said. “We’ve got multiple guys who can go out and score the ball. If you scout us, you’ve got to name everybody on the list.”

The Nuggets have plenty of talent, too, but the one name circled on every scouting report is two-time MVP Nikola Jokic. He is playing well again this year and is coming off a historic game against Charlotte on Sunday night.

Jokic finished with 40 points, a career-high 27 rebounds and 10 assists to join Wilt Chamberlain as the only players to compile those numbers in one game. Jokic had a franchise-record 20 rebounds in the first half of the 119-115 win.

The downside of Jokic’s night was the fact that he had to salvage Denver’s night after the bench gave up a 14-point lead in the fourth quarter. Jokic scored 13 points in the fourth, including three free throws to help ice it.

The reserves were outscored 46-18 by the Hornets’ bench, which exposed a weakness for the Nuggets.

“Our bench wasn’t giving us anything,” Denver head coach Michael Malone said. “… When you’re coming off the bench, you have an obligation. Guys get pissed off when they come out of a game. Well, if you’re playing better, you’re not coming out of a game. Simply stated.”

When Michael Porter Jr. returns from a heel strain it will strengthen the second unit by allowing Bruce Brown to come off the bench. However, Porter has missed 12 games and there is no timeline for his return.

–Field Level Media