With a string of injuries seemingly behind them, the Memphis Grizzlies are showing why they could be the team to beat in the Western Conference.
Memphis leads a season-high eight wins in its matchup against the Indiana Pacers Saturday in Indianapolis.
Ja Morant is averaging 27.6 points and 7.9 assists for the Grizzlies, who are a half game behind the Denver Nuggets in first place in Western Conference standings.
Memphis is 28-13 despite missing several key players through injury in the first half of the season. The team’s entire starting lineup didn’t play together until December 23.
After missing two games earlier this week with a right thigh pain, Morant scored 38 points in the Grizzlies’ 135-129 win over the San Antonio Spurs on Wednesday.
“Obviously we’re definitely in a good position,” said Morant. “We had a lot of guys out so that’s the good thing for us that we’re still (almost) at the top of the conference. I still feel like we need to be a little more locked in and pay attention to details.”
Grizzlies guard Desmond Bane is averaging 21.2 points and is returning to his home state to face the Pacers, who will again be shorthanded on Saturday.
Point guard Tyrese Haliburton is expected to be out for at least two weeks with a left knee bruise and left elbow strain, while center Myles Turner is set to miss his third straight game with back spasms.
Forward Aaron Nesmith has missed the last two games due to a non-COVID illness and is listed as daily.
With three missed starters, Indiana coach Rick Carlisle is giving extra minutes to several reserves, including Isaiah Jackson and Jalen Smith, and rookies Andrew Nembhard and Bennedict Mathurin.
“This is a great opportunity for our younger players,” said Carlisle. “You’re going to see some lineups that we probably haven’t seen all year. This really brings some of our young people into focus. I’m excited to see how we react to that.”
The Pacers lost their second straight game on Friday when John Collins scored by less than a second to give the Atlanta Hawks a 113-111 win in Indianapolis.
Mathurin started for the third time this season and delivered 26 points in 9-of-18 shooting. The Arizona product has averaged 18.2 points over its past six games.
“Mathurin has the tenacity, consistency and conviction of a veteran,” Carlisle said. “The reason 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 encounters against Memphis last season and need to find a way to slow down Morant, who has at least 32 points in four of his last five games.
Memphis coach Taylor Jenkins is monitoring the status of Dillon Brooks (right ankle pain) and Brandon Clarke (left hip pain), both of whom are considered questionable.
If either is forced to miss the game, the Grizzlies will likely ask for more from their star point guard. Morant again proved he’s up to the task on Wednesday when he shot 14-of-25 from the field in the win over San Antonio.
“He was huge for us,” Jenkins said. “If he gets his places and plays at this level, that’s really important for us.”
–Field level media