The Memphis Grizzlies anticipate that Ja Morant will return to action Wednesday when they play the first of back-to-back home games against the Houston Rockets.
With their two-time All-Star guard back in the fold and cheering from the bench, the Grizzlies found the mettle to mount a massive fourth-quarter rally against the Dallas Mavericks on Monday and pull out a critical win relative to their standing in the Western Conference.
Combined with the Sacramento Kings’ road loss to the Utah Jazz, the Grizzlies (44-27) reclaimed sole possession of second in the West with 11 games remaining in the regular season.
Memphis extended its winning streak to three games and improved to 6-3 without Morant, who completed his eight-game suspension for conduct detrimental to the NBA and was eligible to play against the Mavericks.
The timing of his return is ideal. The Grizzlies are in the midst of playing seven of eight games at home and Morant, who spent 11 days in a Florida counseling facility addressing his issues with stress management, expressed both contrition and an anxiousness to get back on the court. Before his season was sidetracked by an unsightly incident at a Colorado nightclub, Morant was leading the Grizzlies in scoring (27.1 points per game) and assists (8.2 per game).
Morant told reporters he is now concentrating exclusively on basketball.
“That’s my main focus now,” Morant said. “Obviously, super excited to be back with my teammates. That’s the main thing right now.
“Right now, for me, it’s just keeping the main thing the main thing and continuing to go through my process of becoming a better me. I feel like if I do that, not only will it help me, but it’ll help everybody around me as well.”
The Grizzlies will remain short-handed against the Rockets despite Morant joining the rotation. Swingman Dillon Brooks was assessed his 18th technical of the season on Monday and earned his second suspension of the campaign. Brooks was penalized for taunting the Mavericks’ bench.
“This one might be a hard one to get back,” Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins said with a wry smile when asked about the possibility of Brooks’ technical being rescinded.
The Rockets, 0-2 against the Grizzlies this season, closed their six-game homestand with a 3-3 record following their 121-108 loss to the Golden State Warriors on Monday. Houston (18-54), playing the second game of a back-to-back, was lethargic early but rallied in the middle periods only to surrender an 18-6 run early in the fourth quarter that yielded an insurmountable deficit.
Still, the Rockets have flashed a measure of improvement down the stretch of another lost season. Houston is 5-5 since snapping an 11-game losing skid on March 4 in San Antonio, and after struggling to develop cohesion with a youthful roster, the Rockets have discovered a spark.
“We were struggling right after All-Star break. It flipped,” Rockets coach Stephen Silas said. “It was guys playing together, guys playing hard, and finding some success with some wins. We need to take it on the road with us.”
The Rockets will open a five-game road trip in Memphis.