Ja Morant‘s 35-point performance against the Trail Blazers Saturday was even more remarkable considering he was playing with a fractured right thumb, writes Dave McMenamin of ESPN. The likely Rookie of the Year told reporters he suffered the injury four games ago.
It’s the latest in a series of mishaps that left the Grizzlies fighting for their playoff life in Orlando after holding a 3 1/2-game lead for the eighth seed when the hiatus began. Jaren Jackson Jr., Tyus Jones and Justise Winslow were all unavailable as the team tried to hang on. Still, Memphis was among the league’s biggest surprises this year and is already looking forward to next season.
“I’m proud of everybody — our whole staff, our players. I mean, we played through a lot of adversities,” Morant said. “We faced injuries early in the season — starting with me and then Brandon (Clarke) and then Jaren. Coming here, we still faced some injuries to some key guys on the team. But we never gave up. I’m proud of our fight.”
There’s more on the Grizzlies:
- Anthony Tolliver, who started the season with Portland, told Morant to use Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard as an example as he develops his game, according to Joe Vardon of The Athletic. Tolliver is most impressed by the way Lillard bounces back after failure. “I told Ja that has to be in your DNA,” Tolliver said. “If you want to be the best guard in this league, which you have the potential to be, that has to be in your DNA, the ability to learn to respond and lead your team when you need it.”
- Memphis has its entire projected starting five under contract through at least 2021/22, so it won’t need to make any major moves this offseason, writes Bobby Marks of ESPN. The addition of Winslow and Gorgui Dieng at the trade deadline, along with the decision to take on Dion Waiters‘ $12.7MM salary, means the Grizzlies won’t have any cap room to work with. They will have an estimated $9.3MM mid-level exception, part of which may be used to re-sign De’Anthony Melton and Josh Jackson.
- Saturday’s loss puts the Grizzlies in the lottery, but their pick will go to the Celtics unless they land a top-four selection in Thursday’s drawing, Marks tweets. If Memphis holds onto the pick, it will become unprotected next year (Twitter link).