Ja Morant unquestionably is one of the NBA’s brightest young stars, but the Memphis Grizzlies have shown they still can win without him.
The Grizzlies (50-23) have walked away with a victory in 15 of 17 games without the All-Star guard this season. They may be looking to add to that total on Thursday when they host the Indiana Pacers (25-48).
A sore right knee reduced Morant to the role of a spectator for Memphis’ 132-120 victory over the visiting Brooklyn Nets on Wednesday.
“He’s dealing with some soreness that crept up in the last couple of days, just offloading that,” Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins said of the 22-year-old Morant, who leads the team in scoring (27.6 points per game) and assists (6.7 per game).
Desmond Bane and De’Anthony Melton each drained six 3-pointers to finish with 23 points on Wednesday as Memphis recorded its sixth win in the past seven games. Dillon Brooks added 21 points and Tyus Jones collected 16 points and 10 assists while starting in place of Morant.
“We roll deep. We have a lot of guys that can go,” Bane told ESPN during his postgame interview. “Obviously Ja’s our leader, superstar, one of the best players in the league, but we have a good team behind him.”
Melton underscored the value of the Grizzlies’ depth after the victory against Brooklyn in front of a national audience.
“One man goes down, two man go down,” Melton said. “We’re so deep, we have a lot of depth on our team. We have a lot of guys that work on their game and want to win from the top to the bottom. We understand what we need to do to go out and get the victory.”
While the Grizzlies found their finishing kick, Indiana was tripped up by the buzzer in a 110-109 loss to the Sacramento Kings on Wednesday.
Buddy Hield and Tyrese Haliburton stepped up against their former team, with the former scoring 25 points on 10-of-18 shooting from the floor — including 5 of 8 from 3-point range. Haliburton added 13 points, 15 assists and three steals for the Pacers, who were denied in bid for a three-game winning streak.
Hield, however, lost control of the ball with 14 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter. Soon thereafter, Damian Jones tipped home a Trey Lyles miss with two-tenths of a second left for the Kings.
“It’s basketball, man,” Hield said of the giveaway. “I was looking ahead and trying to beat my guy and just lost the ball. … Maybe I should have (held) the ball, let them come trap me or foul me. But I was just trying to get the ball over halfcourt so I didn’t (get an eight-second violation).”
Pacers coach Rick Carlisle felt for Hield after the late-game miscue.
“I love Buddy Hield. Ever since he got here, he’s been enthusiastic, he’s been a willing learner,” Carlisle said. “He and Ty, I’m sure, would’ve liked to have won this game, but they’re pros. Ty is a young pro, Buddy’s been around. He’ll move on and do better.”
Indiana’s Jalen Smith sat out Wednesday due to illness. He had a team-high 15 points when the Pacers took their largest loss of the season, a 135-102 home defeat against Memphis on March 15. Bane, an Indiana native, scored 21 points and Jaren Jackson Jr. added 19 for the Grizzlies in that contest.