Southwest Notes: Morant, Smart, Kennard, Wembanyama, Murphy

After watching his team post a miserable 6-19 record while he was serving a 25-game suspension, Ja Morant has the Grizzlies looking like winners again, writes Tim MacMahon of ESPN. Morant had 30 points, six rebounds and 11 assists in Saturday’s victory at Atlanta as Memphis improved to 3-0 since his return. The secret to the success, according to Morant, is that the players are enjoying themselves again.

“The tough part was not being able to be out there and enjoy and have fun with my guys, but now that I’m out there, I’m making sure that we’re all having fun no matter what,” Morant said after Thursday’s game. “So that was pretty much just my message. You could just tell by the energy of the team. We catch a lob, you got the bench going crazy, you got the players screaming, yelling, dapping each other up. That’s our type of basketball. That’s how we are. That’s the team we are, the people we are.”

Memphis fans are enjoying having Morant back as well, MacMahon adds. They took part in a parade outside the arena to celebrate his first home game, which marked just the fourth sellout of the season at FedEx Forum.

“You got to play the game with a lot of joy,” Desmond Bane said. “And when you’re losing and down, sometimes it’s hard to find that spirit and that swag. But regardless, winning, losing, up, down, you got to have that fire and that fight. And I think we got that now.”

There’s more from the Southwest Division:

  • Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins indicated that Marcus Smart may be ready to return on Tuesday, tweets Damichael Cole of The Commercial Appeal. Smart has been sidelined since November 14 with a left foot sprain and has only appeared in 11 games this season. Jenkins hopes Luke Kennard can begin playing five-on-five next week and can be back in the rotation by the end of December, per Rob Fischer of Grind City Media (Twitter link).
  • A pregame mishap prevented Spurs rookie Victor Wembanyama from playing tonight at Dallas, according to Tom Orsborn of The San Antonio Express-News. Wembanyama suffered a right ankle sprain when he stepped on a ball boy’s foot during warmups. He went to the locker room to get his ankle retaped, but coach Gregg Popovich opted to hold him out of the game for precautionary reasons.
  • Trey Murphy has become a valuable part of the Pelicans‘ offense since returning from left knee surgery that forced him to miss the first 19 games of the season, notes Christian Clark of NOLA. Murphy made his first start Thursday and delivered 28 points in a win at Cleveland. “I feel great,” he said. “I’m getting back into my rhythm. I’m getting back into the flow of things. It’s just in time for the dog days of the season. I have fresh legs for those times.”
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