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Ja Morant: Memphis Grizzlies 5-1 without star guard placed in league's health and safety protocols

The Memphis Grizzlies face the Los Angeles Lakers live on Sky Sports on Thursday night, watch the action on Sky Sports Arena from 1am

Memphis Grizzlies guard Ja Morant
Image: Memphis Grizzlies guard Ja Morant has now been listed in the NBA's health and safety protocols

When the Memphis Grizzlies lost Ja Morant to a knee injury after 19 games, few would have predicted the team would go on a spurt winning five of their next six games.

Even fewer would have thought they would have set a new NBA record for a winning margin in a game with their 73-point triumph over the Oklahoma City Thunder within the last week.

Morant, who has now entered the NBA's Health and Safety Protocols on top of the sprained knee he already suffered on November 26, is the centrepiece of the franchise's future with legitimate superstar potential. The 22-year-old is the closest thing the NBA has seen to Derrick Rose in his prime, an explosive guard impossible to stop from charging to the rim and finishing.

Morant had been putting up All-Star numbers before his injury, averaging 24.1 points, 5.6 rebounds and 6.8 assists for the season. Entering the protocols shouldn't affect his time out any further with him still set to be out until around Christmas with the knee problem anyway. Of course, the Grizzlies are a better team with him but managing to go 5-1 without Morant (5-0 prior to the defeat to the Dallas Mavericks last night) considering the franchise had gone 6-9 all time prior to this current absence definitely says that the strength of the supporting cast has definitely improved.

Keys to success in Morant's absence

To give a full picture, ahead of tonight's clash with the Los Angeles Lakers live on Sky Sports, it is worth pointing out that the first four games they won in the run were all against teams currently at .500 or less: Sacramento Kings (11-14); Toronto Raptors (11-14); OKC Thunder (8-16); Dallas Mavericks (12-12). The Miami Heat, the first winning team the Grizzlies faced, were also seriously undermanned when they took the victory against them for the fifth win on the streak.

The most remarkable aspect of the five-game run was the fact the team was never behind on the scoreboard. That fact means the Grizzlies, amazingly, are only the second team in the last 25 NBA seasons to win five straight games without ever trailing (including ties after 0-0). And only once during the run were they tied after 0-0 during the streak and that came on Monday night against the Heat when the two teams were tied 2-2 at the beginning of the game.

"Guys are buying in, guys are wanting to take that next step of being a great team and getting ready for what's ahead," Dillon Brooks said following their 105-90 victory in Miami on Monday. "We are so unselfish. We respond with relentlessness that a lot of teams don't have."

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A major factor in the team being able to absorb the injury to Morant has been the leap of second-year guard Desmond Bane who is a potential candidate for the NBA's Most Improved Player award.

The run for him has included a career-best night of 29 points and 9 rebounds in the win against the Mavericks. He's averaging 16.0 points, 4.3 rebounds on 46.8 per cent shooting and 39.9 per cent from three. It's pretty much identical efficiency on field goals from last season, but a jump in minutes from 22.3 minutes per game (mpg) to 29.0 mpg and a jump in scoring from 9.2 points per game (ppg) to 16.0 ppg.

The other big factor to come to the fore has been the strength of the defense, which has improved considerably without Morant on court.

In the 18 games prior to the injury, the team held their opponents to 101 points or fewer just twice, in a 104-101 overtime win at Golden State and a 106-97 win over Denver at home on November 1.

In all five games on the winning run, the Grizzlies succeeded in holding all of their opponents to 101 points or fewer, conceding only an average of 90.2 ppg. The only game where they've not managed to do that was when the Mavericks put up 104 points to end the winning run last night.

Things get tougher in the coming games with the Lakers, 76ers, Warriors and Suns all coming up soon on the schedule and one difference with Morant entering the health and safety protocols is that he will no longer be on the sideline providing support.

Memphis Grizzlies guard Ja Morant, center, sits on the bench between center Xavier Tillman, left, and forward Dillon Brooks (24) in the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Atlanta Hawks
Image: Morant, center (wearing the mask), sits on the bench between center Xavier Tillman, left, and forward Dillon Brooks

The number two pick in the 2019 draft has been enthusiastically cheering the team on, providing guidance and coaching some of the stars even as he been unable to affect things on court. That will change tonight and no doubt add to his frustration at currently not being able to contribute tangibly to the team's success.

But if the team can marry up what they have been able to in his absence with the added input from the supporting cast and the improved defense once he returns to the starting five, then they will definitely be in contention to book a place in the postseason.

Grizzlies vs Lakers preview:

Game info

Anthony Davis and the Los Angeles Lakers take on Ja Morant and the Memphis Grizzlies on Thursday.

The Grizzlies have gone 11-6 against Western Conference teams. Memphis has a 3-1 record in games decided by less than 4 points.

The Lakers have gone 6-8 against Western Conference opponents. Los Angeles ranks ninth in the NBA with 24.5 assists per game led by Russell Westbrook averaging 8.7.

The teams meet for the second time this season. The Lakers won 121-118 in the last matchup on October 25.

Top performers

Steven Adams is averaging 7.1 points and 8.6 rebounds for the Grizzlies. Desmond Bane is averaging 3.0 made 3-pointers over the last 10 games for Memphis.

Westbrook is averaging 20.4 points, 7.8 rebounds and 8.7 assists for the Lakers. Davis is averaging 23.9 points over the last 10 games for Los Angeles.

Last 10 games

Grizzlies: 6-4, averaging 110.3 points, 47.3 rebounds, 25.5 assists, 9.9 steals and 6.3 blocks per game while shooting 45.3% from the field. Their opponents have averaged 106.9 points per game.

Lakers: 5-5, averaging 115.1 points, 46.8 rebounds, 25.4 assists, 7.8 steals and 5.2 blocks per game while shooting 47.0% from the field. Their opponents have averaged 113.7 points.


Grizzlies: Sam Merrill: out (ankle), Kyle Anderson: out (back), Brandon Clarke: out (knee), Ziaire Williams: out (ankle), Ja Morant: out (health and safety protocols).

Lakers: Trevor Ariza: out (ankle), LeBron James: day to day (abdominal), Kendrick Nunn: out (knee), Anthony Davis: day to day (thumb).

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