PHOENIX – Having won just seven of their first 23 games amid nagging injuries and one of the NBA’s toughest schedules, the Grizzlies’ formula for continuity and success remains in the trial and error stage as they wrap up their longest road trip of the season.
But Jaren Jackson Jr. is confident the recipe includes many of the ingredients the Grizzlies assembled the other night in Golden State.
There was balance, with five players scoring in double figures.
There was unselfishness, with seven players dishing at least two assists.
There was opportunism, with 22 points scored off opponent turnovers.
There was defensive commitment, with everyone who touched the floor securing a rebound on a night when the Grizzlies held their opponent to just 37.6 percent shooting from the field.
And, ultimately, there was closure as catalyst Ja Morant returned from a four-game injury absence to score 13 of his game-high 26 points in the fourth quarter to secure the victory.
The Grizzlies (7-16) hope to blend that same concoction once more to salvage a split when they close out their four-game trip Wednesday in Phoenix against the improved Suns (11-12). Jackson believes the Grizzlies, who had lost nine of their previous 10 games before Monday’s 110-102 win at Golden State, may be on the verge of turning a corner as they return to health.
“It’s huge,” Jackson said of the reassurance Monday’s collective effort offered that the team is developing the right mix. “Because we did the things that we know we can do, and we just have to continue to build on that for the next game. Just remember (Monday’s) feeling, because we don’t want to (experience) the other feeling.”
That other feeling came after the Grizzlies opened the 10-day trip with a 106-99 loss at Chicago on Dec. 4 and a 126-112 setback in Utah on Saturday before regrouping in Golden State. In those two losses, the Grizzlies toiled through second and third quarter droughts, respectively, and trailed by as 22 points against the Bulls and by 25 against the Jazz before responding late.
In Phoenix, the Grizzlies will try to play from the blueprint that led to sustained success against Golden State. First, it involved getting Morant’s services back in the lineup, which provided a consistent direction on offense to avoid long scoring droughts. On Monday, Memphis led 54-47 at the half, won the third quarter by a 34-32 margin and carried a 10-point lead into the final period. And that’s when Morant, ranked second in the NBA in fourth-quarter scoring, took over.
We played 48 minutes of complete basketball. This was all about cycles that we were talking about earlier, and we were able to bounce back after a couple of really tough losses. We were able to get back to our identity.Taylor Jenkins
The Grizzlies avenged a 19-point loss to the Warriors, who came to FedExForum Nov. 19 with a shorthanded roster and delivered arguably Memphis’ most disappointing defeat of the season. A similar opportunity awaits Wednesday in Phoenix as the Grizzlies look to even the four-game regular season series after losing 114-105 on Nov. 2 at home to the Suns.
For Memphis to extend the trend, it must rekindle the passion and execution with which it played on the previous stop of this trip.
“I thought it was one of our more complete games of the season,” Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins said of the performance against Golden State. “We played 48 minutes of complete basketball. This was all about cycles that we were talking about earlier, and we were able to bounce back after a couple of really tough losses. We were able to get back to our identity.”
The Grizzlies also appear to be getting back to relative health. Morant’s return on Monday from dealing with back soreness gave the Grizzlies their leading scorer and facilitator who is averaging 19.1 points and 6.4 assists this season. Memphis guard Grayson Allen will sit out Wednesday with an ankle injury he sustained midway through Monday’s game.
But the Grizzlies could also see the return of fellow rookie standout Brandon Clarke and veteran swingman Kyle Anderson, who were both listed as probable for Wednesday against the Suns.
Clarke, who leads all rookies in rebounding (5.9), field-goal percentage (.630) and blocks (1.0) has missed the past four games with hip/oblique soreness. Anderson, arguably the most versatile player on the second unit, has missed the past five games with lingering heel soreness. Clarke and Anderson participated in stages of Tuesday’s practice in San Francisco before the team flew to Phoenix, with the workout including a scrimmage game to test their conditioning.
We look forward to playing every game. We take going into every game the same way. And that’s listening to our coaches, listening to the scouts on what we need to do for each team. We know what we’re capable of when we play together.Ja Morant
A win over the Suns would mean a 2-2 finish on the trip as the Grizzlies head into a three-game homestand that starts Friday against the surging Milwaukee Bucks. Although the game in Phoenix ends the trip, it starts a tough stretch of four games in six nights for Memphis.
The schedule continues to be relentless – both in regularity and stiffness of competition. But the Grizzlies aim to match that demanding slate with consistent effort, energy and execution.
“We just want to go out and play our game, and that’s together and feeding off each other on both ends of the floor,” Morant said. “We look forward to playing every game. We take going into every game the same way. And that’s listening to our coaches, listening to the scouts on what we need to do for each team. We know what we’re capable of when we play together.”
At least that’s what the recipe calls for.
The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Memphis Grizzlies. All opinions expressed by Michael Wallace are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Memphis Grizzlies or its Basketball Operations staff, owners, parent companies, partners or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Memphis Grizzlies and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.