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West co-leading Grizzlies set to face slumping Suns

Dec 15, 2022; Memphis, Tennessee, USA; Memphis Grizzlies guard Ja Morant (12) dunks during the second half against the Milwaukee Bucks at FedExForum. Mandatory Credit: Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

Memphis Grizzlies star Ja Morant recently expressed his disdain for the other Western Conference teams by expressing that the Eastern Conference’s Boston Celtics are the only foe he is worried about.

Interestingly enough, Morant and the Grizzlies play one of the top teams in the West over the past two seasons twice in the next five days, beginning when they visit the Phoenix Suns on Friday night.

The two teams also square off Tuesday in Memphis.

The Suns reached the NBA Finals two seasons ago and posted the best regular-season record in the NBA in 2021-22.

Entering Friday, Phoenix is just 19-13 due to losses in six of the past nine games, while Memphis is tied with the Denver Nuggets for the best mark in the West at 19-11.

During the interview with ESPN, Morant was asked, “No one in the West?” after naming the Celtics as his concern.

His answer: “Nah, I’m fine in the West.”

The Grizzlies do get a break in the first tussle with Phoenix as Suns star Devin Booker (groin) will miss his third straight game. Booker scored a season-high 58 points in his most recent appearance, a 118-114 win over the New Orleans Pelicans on Saturday.

Landry Shamet did a fine Booker impression on Tuesday by establishing career bests of 31 points and nine 3-pointers. But Phoenix lost 113-110 to the Washington Wizards, who snapped a 10-game skid.

“My teammates were finding me, and I just made shots,” Shamet said afterward. “We couldn’t close the game out.”

Deandre Ayton contributed 30 points and 13 rebounds, but his performance wasn’t the topic of conversation afterward. It was his in-game debate with coach Monty Williams during a timeout in the fourth quarter as the Wizards were roaring ahead.

Mikal Bridges had chided Ayton on the court over a defensive breakdown shortly before the timeout. Then came the fierce argument that reminded folks about problems between Ayton and Williams during last season’s Western Conference semifinals.

Ayton insisted there is no rift between himself and the coach.

“Obviously the whole world sees it, but it’s really all love and just getting us back to regroup,” Ayton said.

“It gets really emotional and all that, but as I said, this is a family. We know each other, we know each other’s personalities. Everybody got to see us really, like, intensified in the moment where, ‘OK, dang, we lost our upper hand.’ … But Coach clarified it up in the huddle.”

Still, it was a bad look for the Suns, who have not played up to their level of the past two seasons.

Of course, Morant has already checked in with his opinion as he looks to lead Memphis to its third straight win over Phoenix.

Morant produced 35 points and 10 assists on Tuesday, but the Grizzlies succumbed 105-91 to the host Nuggets for their second consecutive loss.

In the eyes of coach Taylor Jenkins, Memphis lost the game in the first quarter as it trailed by 21 at its conclusion. The opening game of the road trip also featured that bad trend, as the Grizzlies trailed by 21 at halftime before losing 115-109 to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Saturday.

“Two games in a row we don’t come out in the first quarter, and we pay the price for it,” Jenkins told reporters. “We were getting some good shots early. We just need to convert those and give ourselves a better start to the game.”

Morant didn’t receive much help against Denver as Dillon Brooks was the team’s second-leading scorer with just 11 points.

–Field Level Media