PREVIEW: Shorthanded Memphis Grizzlies searching for ways to win against Charlotte Hornets

By Field Level Media
Feb 6, 2021; New Orleans, Louisiana, USA; Memphis Grizzlies guard Ja Morant (12) talks to Memphis Grizzlies head coach Taylor Jenkins (R) in the third quarter against the New Orleans Pelicans at the Smoothie King Center. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

Reigning NBA Rookie of the Year Ja Morant leads the Memphis Grizzlies against a leading contender for this season’s award, LaMelo Ball, and the visiting Charlotte Hornets on Wednesday.

Ball, making his fifth career start on Monday, sank seven 3-pointers en route to 24 points in a 119-94 rout of Houston. Ball also dished 10 assists and grabbed seven rebounds, despite missing much of pregame warmups due to a COVID-19 testing snafu.

Related: If you’re a fan of the Grizzlies, check out #GrindCity rumors, rankings, and news here

“I didn’t get (any) extra shots,” Ball said in his postgame interview with FOX Sports South. “They said my test was messed up or something … But then I ended up getting in and stepping onto the court with no warmups, no nothing.”

While Ball’s performance sparked the offense, Charlotte’s team defense solidified the blowout win. The seven points scored by the Rockets in the fourth quarter was just one more than the Grizzlies’ franchise record for fewest allowed in a period.

After Monday’s performance, Charlotte ranks in the NBA’s top 10 for points allowed per game at 110.4.

“I think they’ve done a heck of a job to this point and they’re not satisfied,” Hornets coach James Borrego said in his postgame teleconference. “They want to do more, they want to be more. I’m really proud of their growth.”

As Ball strengthens his budding Rookie of the Year campaign — averaging 14.2 points and a team-high 6.2 assists per game — the 2019-20 winner, Morant, aims to get his Grizzlies back on track amid a four-game losing streak.

Morant returned on Jan. 16 from an eight-game absence due to an ankle injury. Memphis won four games in a seven-game winning streak upon Morant’s return but has since dropped four straight.

In the most recent loss, 128-113 to Toronto on Monday, Morant scored 18 points and dished nine assists while Jonas Valanciunas scored 27 points and grabbed 20 rebounds. However, defensive woes continued to plague the Grizzlies.

“We just got to want it more in the fourth quarter and we’ve paid for it the past two games,” Morant said in his postgame teleconference.

As Memphis seeks to improve its fourth-quarter play — the Grizzlies were outscored by 10 points in the final period Saturday against New Orleans, and by 18 points on Monday — it must do so with an injury-depleted roster.

Related: If you’re a fan of the Hornets, check out #AllFly rumors, rankings, and news here.

Jaren Jackson Jr. (knee), Jontay Porter (knee) and Justise Winslow (hip) all have yet to play this season. Starting forward Brandon Clarke missed Monday’s loss with a calf injury, while spark-plug reserve guard De’Anthony Melton was sidelined with a shoulder injury after being removed midway through the loss to the Pelicans.

“We just gotta get our swagger back. We’ll get punched in the mouth and you know, we can’t get back up,” Desmond Bane said in his postgame teleconference. “We just got to get our swagger back and stay together.”

–Field Level Media