Memphis star guard Ja Morant returned to action and scored 17 points off the bench during the Grizzlies’ 130-125 home win over the Houston Rockets on Wednesday, March 22 (Thursday, March 23, Manila time).
Morant missed the previous nine games, eight due to a suspension for detrimental conduct. He appeared as a reserve for the first time during his four NBA seasons, in his 241st game.
“Once I got out there on the court and see the fans’ reaction to me being back, it definitely helped me a lot,” Morant said. “Made me feel good inside.”
Memphis coach Taylor Jenkins said pregame that Morant would play slightly over 20 minutes, and the two-time All-Star wound up seeing 24 minutes in which he contributed 5 assists and 4 rebounds. Jenkins also said Morant was on board with coming off the bench.
“This was something he brought to the table as well as had been on my mind,” Jenkins told reporters pregame. “So we collectively thought this was the best strategy, at least for the first one or two games. And then we’ll kind of reevaluate after that.”
The Grizzlies were 6-3 during the nine games Morant missed. Tyus Jones filled in as the point guard and averaged 16.3 points and 8.2 assists, including reaching double digits in assists five times.
Morant was disciplined following his livestreaming of a video on March 4 in which the NBA said Morant “is holding a firearm in an intoxicated state” while at a club in the Denver area following a loss to the Nuggets.
He initially was held out by the Grizzlies before the NBA issued the suspension on March 15. Morant said he spent time in a Florida counseling facility during his time away from basketball.
Morant rejoined the Grizzlies on Monday, but he sat out that night’s home game against the Dallas Mavericks since his conditioning wasn’t up to par.
“Obviously we don’t have a long runway until the end of the regular season, but we want to be smart with that layoff that we’re not doing anything to jeopardize his health,” Jenkins said.
Standout shooting guard Desmond Bane said Morant has the support of his teammates.
“He’s gotta know that it’s not all on him,” Bane said. “He’s got all of us to lean on. Players, coaches, the whole organization has got his back. And I hope the whole city of Memphis does too.”
Morant leads the Grizzlies with averages of 26.9 points and 8.1 assists in 54 games this season. – Rappler.com
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