Thursday, January 26, 2023
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NBA Preview: Memphis Grizzlies at Washington Wizards

After the franchise’s best start in 16 years, the Washington Wizards will try to shake off a two-game losing skid Friday at Washington, D.C., hosting a Memphis Grizzlies bunch coming off back-to-back wins.

Memphis played two straight at home Monday and Wednesday against the Denver Nuggets, winning 106-97 and 108-106. Ja Morant recorded 18 points, six rebounds, six assists and three steals in Wednesday’s win, while Jaren Jackson Jr. went for 22 points and eight rebounds.

Jackson is coming off a 2020-21 in which he missed all but 11 regular-season games due to injuries. The fourth-year forward has scored in double-figures in six of the Grizzlies’ first eight games, and Wednesday marked his second outing with 20-plus points.

“If you ask me what I want most in my life, it’s my job, it’s pretty much all I eat, dream: It’s just to win,” Jackson said. “Act like you’ve been here before. Don’t act like this is new, because it ain’t.”

Second-year wing Desmond Bane is elevating his play early on, helping fill the void with Dillon Brooks sidelined due to a broken hand. Bane is shooting better than 41 percent from beyond the 3-point arc on almost eight attempts per game.

Morant is setting the pace for Memphis early with a 27-point per game average thus far. The 2019-20 rookie of the year scored 26 points in Monday’s win, and 30 points in an Oct. 28 victory over Golden State in overtime.

The Grizzlies are winners in three of their last four coming into Washington, which roared to its best start since the 2005-06 season at 5-1. Since then, the Wizards dropped a 118-111 decision Monday at Atlanta and a 109-100 contest Wednesday against visiting Toronto.

“I didn’t like our effort or focus, and it started early. I don’t think we were prepared to get hit the way we did. I don’t think the box score reflects it, but we didn’t meet the challenge,” Wizards coach Wes Unseld Jr. said.

Washington never recovered from a 30-19 second-quarter deficit in the loss. The Wizards also struggled with the backcourt tandem of Fred VanVleet and OG Anunoby, who scored 33 and 21 points respectively.

The Wizards can expect a similar test Friday from Morant and Bane.

“They did a good job controlling the pace, and every time we’d get close, five, six points, they would execute on offense and get a bucket or get an offensive rebound,” Raul Neto told the Washington Post.

Neto was one of three Wizards to score in double figures off the bench, posting 14 points. Montrezl Harrell registered 15 points and 10 rebounds as a reserve, a role in which the offseason acquisition from the Los Angeles Lakers has thrived.

Harrell is averaging 18 points and 9.9 rebounds per game with just two starts.

Washington comes into Friday’s matchup with some potential hits to its depth. Rui Hachimura and Thomas Bryant have not yet played this season and neither has a clear timetable to return. Davis Bertans is out indefinitely with an ankle injury, and Kyle Kuzma is questionable for Friday after leaving Wednesday’s game with an arm injury.

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