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Grizzlies, Ja Morant look to continue climb in Atlanta

Mar 24, 2023; Memphis, Tennessee, USA; Memphis Grizzlies guard Ja Morant (12) collects the ball during the first half against the Houston Rockets at FedExForum. Mandatory Credit: Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

The Memphis Grizzlies will put their five-game winning streak on the line and continue their quest to earn the top playoff seed in the Western Conference on Sunday when they travel to Atlanta to play a Hawks team looking to clarify its postseason situation.

The Grizzlies (46-27) are currently second in the Western Conference and trail Denver by 3 1/2 games with nine remaining. Memphis already has clinched a playoff spot and locked up its second straight Southwest Division title. The Grizzlies are coming off a 151-114 win over Houston on Friday.

The Hawks (37-37) climbed back to .500 with Saturday’s 143-130 win over Indiana and remain No. 8 in the Eastern Conference.

This is the final game between Memphis and Atlanta this season. The Grizzlies won the first contest 128-103 on Dec. 12 in Memphis. Tyus Jones had 22 points and 11 rebounds and Jaren Jackson Jr. tied a single-game franchise record for the Grizzlies with eight blocks. Atlanta was without Trae Young, Dejounte Murray, Clint Capela and Bogdan Bogdanovic, while the Grizzlies played without Ja Morant.

Atlanta will need to slow the 3-point shooting of Luke Kennard, who set a franchise record by making 10 3-pointers on 11 attempts against Houston. Kennard was acquired from the Los Angeles Clippers at the trade deadline. He matched his career high with 30 points and tied the NBA record for the highest 3-point percentage by a player with 10 in a game, a record shared by Ty Lawson and Klay Thompson.

“When you start hitting a couple in a row, usually about three for me, I start feeling it a little bit,” Kennard said. “It’s the kind of thing where once it leaves your hand, you think it’s going in. So, it was pretty fun.”

Memphis coach Taylor Jenkins said, “And he had three assists and was competing on defense. This is why we made the trade for him. Hopefully he can make 10 3s every night he goes out there.”

The Grizzlies are working Morant back into the lineup after he served an eight-game suspension for posting a video in which he was shown waving a gun at a Denver-area nightclub. Morant, who averages 26.7 points, 5.9 rebounds and 8.1 assists, has come off the bench in the two games since his return and totaled 35 points and 13 assists.

The Hawks got a much-needed lift off the bench on Saturday from Garrison Mathews, who was picked up from Houston at the trade deadline. Mathews made four 3-pointers and scored 14 points, his most with the Hawks, to help overcome the loss of Young, who was ejected in the third quarter of the game after throwing the ball in the direction of an official while arguing a call.

“It’s about time,” Mathews said. “I haven’t felt like that in a long time. It’s taken me a few games to get my rhythm. We’ve had a few guys out and my role hasn’t been consistent but hopefully I can knock some shots down when I can. … The thing for us is how much we can compete defensively. We’ve got some of the best scorers in the league. Comes down to can we compete and can we guard harder than the other team.”

–Field Level Media

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