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NBA Preview: Memphis Grizzlies (6-18) at Oklahoma City Thunder 16-8)

The Memphis Grizzlies hope Ja Morant’s return can lift them out of their season-long funk and back into playoff contention.

But the Grizzlies have to first navigate one more game without Morant when they take on the Oklahoma City Thunder on Monday in Oklahoma City.

Memphis comes into the game on a four-game losing streak, though the Grizzlies have been much more competitive on the road than at home without Morant.

Memphis is 5-7 on the road while losing 11 of 12 at home.

The Grizzlies are in the top five in the NBA in defensive rating on the road at 111.3 points allowed per 100 possessions.

The Thunder are in the top 10 in the league in offensive rating at 117.7.

Monday’s game is the final one in a 25-game suspension for Morant, the two-time All-Star point guard.

Morant was suspended after holding up a handgun during an Instagram Live video shortly after the end of last season.

Without Morant, the Grizzlies are 6-18.

Morant is expected to make his season debut Tuesday night at New Orleans.

According to a report from the Memphis Commercial Appeal, the Grizzlies will waive second-year center Kenneth Lofton Jr. to clear a roster spot with Morant’s return imminent.

Memphis could be without Derrick Rose after Rose left Friday’s loss to Houston with left hamstring soreness after playing less than nine minutes, a season low.

The Thunder, coming off a 118-117 win at Denver on Saturday, are near the top in the Western Conference.

Oklahoma City has won three of its past four.

While Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has been the engine of the Thunder’s early-season surge, the interior tandem of second-year star Williams and rookie Chet Holmgren have played big roles as well.

Holmgren is coming off a 17-point, 11-rebound performance that included a career-high nine blocked shots in the win over the Nuggets.

Only five rookies in NBA history have recorded a game with at least 17 points, 11 rebounds and nine blocks. The four others – Alonzo Mourning, Shaquille O’Neal, David Robinson and Ralph Sampson – are in the Hall of Fame.

Holmgren is among the NBA’s leaders in blocks with 2.7 per game.

After scoring a season-low five points in Thursday’s loss at Sacramento, Williams had 24 points on 11-of-20 shooting against Denver.

Monday’s game, the first of three meetings between the teams this season, is the first of a five-game homestand for the Thunder.

The teams split four games last season.

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