Southwest Notes: Morant, Mills, Ball, Tillman

Grizzlies star Ja Morant returned to the lineup on Saturday days ahead of his initial timetable, energizing his teammates and leading the club to a 106-104 victory over Philadelphia, Tim Bontemps of ESPN writes.

Morant suffered a Grade 2 ankle sprain on Dec. 28 and was given a 3-to-5 week timeline, a brutal blow for a team already playing without Jaren Jackson Jr. In nearly 31 minutes against the Sixers, Morant finished with 17 points and six assists, shooting 7-of-14 from the floor.

“It was huge, in the fact that he wanted to come back so fast,” teammate Xavier Tillman said, as relayed by Bontemps. “For a guy who .. is a franchise kind-of-guy, they’re usually able to take their time and make sure they are 110 percent before they come back. I’m not saying he wasn’t 110 percent, but he was dying and itching to come back and help us win games.

“To see that from your head guy motivates everybody else, including me, being one of the rookies on the team. It’s like, ‘Hey man, forget nicks and bruises. The dude looked like he broke his ankle and he’s itching to get back. If I have nicks and bruises, I can play, and I can give my heart.'”

Here are some other notes from the Southwest Division tonight:

  • Spurs guard Patty Mills confirmed he plans to play for Australia in the Olympics, as relayed by ESPN (hat tip to Sportando). “Everyone who’s a part of that program right now, from the head coach all the way to the equipment manager, everyone’s gotta be locked in and feel the exact same way as we feel: determined, fire burning inside, desire to do everything we possibly can to win this gold medal,” Mills said.
  • Pelicans coach Stan Van Gundy issued a brief injury update on Lonzo Ball, who’s currently dealing with bilateral knee tendinopathy. Though Ball didn’t practice on Saturday, Van Gundy is hopeful he can return relatively soon. “He says he feels a lot better,” Van Gundy said, as relayed by Jacob Rude of USA Today. “(He’s) really working hard on strengthening the muscles around that knee which seems to really help. I think he’s pretty optimistic about being able to come at full strength and pretty optimistic that’s (his return) is not in the distant, distant future. I think we’re talking more days to a week than we are weeks.”
  • Grizzlies forward Xavier Tillman also discussed his increased role with the team (as relayed by Evan Barnes of the Commercial Appeal). The rookie finished with 15 points and four steals off the bench on Saturday, proving his worth on both ends of the floor.

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