The Memphis Grizzlies were supposed to face some challenges while playing without star point guard Ja Morant.
Instead, Memphis is winning at a dizzying rate and looks to post its ninth victory in 10 games without Morant while visiting the sinking Portland Trail Blazers on Wednesday night.
Morant injured his left knee during a loss to the Atlanta Hawks on Nov. 26 as the club fell to 9-10 on the season.
The Grizzlies responded with a 27-point win over the Sacramento Kings in their first game without their leader and later clobbered the Oklahoma City Thunder by a record 73 points on Dec. 2.
The pattern of convincing wins continued Monday when Memphis steamrolled the visiting Philadelphia 76ers 126-91.
“I think our guys just understood: ‘Gosh, we can play so much better,'” Memphis coach Taylor Jenkins said of the recent run of success. “Sometimes it takes you a minute to get the chemistry and remember all the standards that we talk about. It just doesn’t happen when you wake up Day One.”
Dillon Brooks scored 23 points and Jaren Jackson Jr. added 22 against Philadelphia. Five Grizzlies scored in double digits as the club once again didn’t look as if its best player was sidelined.
“Ja went down and it felt like we needed to step up for him because we didn’t want to let him down,” reserve forward Xavier Tillman said after Monday’s win. “We know how much effort and work he put in in the summertime, how much he put in for this season, so the big thing was don’t let him down. Make sure everyone handles their business on and off the court so that we’re ready to produce in the game.”
Jackson scored over 20 points for his third straight appearance — he missed Memphis’ Saturday win over the Houston Rockets with a knee injury — and the fifth time in his past seven games. Brooks has topped 20 in three of his past four appearances.
The Grizzlies will look to avenge a 116-96 loss in Portland on Oct. 27. CJ McCollum scored 25 for the Trail Blazers that night but will sit out Wednesday for the fifth straight game due to a collapsed lung.
Portland fell 111-107 in overtime to the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday night for its sixth consecutive setback and ninth in the past 10 games.
The Trail Blazers left the door open with two missed free throws in the final 32 seconds of regulation, and the Suns made them pay when Chris Paul hit a short shot to force overtime.
“We’ve been up and down with the way that we close (games),” Portland coach Chauncey Billups said afterward. “We missed some pretty big free throws. In close games, free throws matter.”
Portland star Damian Lillard recorded 31 points and 10 assists in his second outing since returning from a five-game absence caused by an abdominal injury.
Stunningly, Lillard played a season-high 47 minutes on the front end of a back-to-back.
Lillard shot just 11 of 31 from the floor, including 5 of 16 from 3-point range.
Billups said he tried to remove Lillard from the game with about two minutes left in the third quarter and again early in the fourth period. He said Lillard insisted on remaining in the game both times.
“I said, ‘You know we play tomorrow,’ and he said, ‘Just let me go, I feel good,'” Billups said of the second attempt. “Obviously, I think he got tired, which is normal, down the stretch.”
Portland has lost five straight home games after opening the season with a 10-1 mark at Moda Center.
–Field Level Media