Grizzlies' Ja Morant comes off bench, scores 17 in return

ByTim MacMahon ESPN logo
Thursday, March 23, 2023

MEMPHIS, Tenn. --Memphis GrizzliesAll-Star point guard Ja Morantplayed in his first game since March 3 on Wednesday night against the Houston Rockets as he returned from an eight-game suspension.

Morant came off the bench for the first time in his career, something he suggested to the Grizzlies' coaching staff as he works his way back into playing shape.He ended up playing 24 minutes and finished with 17 points on 6-for-13 shooting overall and 5-for-6 from the line, with five assists and four rebounds, as the Grizzlies beat the Rockets 130-125.

Morant received a standing ovation from the Memphis crowd as he checked in for the first time with 3:05 remaining in the first quarter.

"I'm thankful and grateful for everybody that's been supporting me during this time," Morant said after the game. "It definitely helped me a lot. It put me at ease."

Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins said earlier Wednesday that Morant, who sat out Monday's win over the Dallas Mavericks because of conditioning concerns after being away from the team for two weeks, would be on a minutes restriction in the low 20s.

"This was something he brought to the table as well as had been on my mind," Jenkins said. "So we collectively thought this was the best strategy, at least for the first one or two games. And then we'll kind of reevaluate after that."

The Grizzlies went 6-3 in the nine games Morant missed. Point guard Tyus Jones averaged 16.3 points and 8.2 assists while shooting 50.9% from the floor and 40% from 3-point range during that stretch.

Memphis plans to gradually ramp up Morant's minutes over the next few games. He was not able to work out during the 11 days he spent in a Florida counseling facility after he livestreamed a video of himself brandishing a handgun at a Denver-area strip club in the early-morning hours of March 4, which resulted in the league-imposed suspension for conduct detrimental to the NBA.

"Obviously, we don't have a long runway until the end of the regular season, but we want to be smart with that layoff that we're not doing anything to jeopardize his health," Jenkins said.

Morant, who leads the Grizzlies with 27.1 points and 8.2 assists per game, started the first 240 games of his NBA career.

The Grizzlies will host the Rockets again on Friday then hit the road against the Atlanta Hawks on Sunday.

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