Ja Morant scored 34 points, his sixth straight game of at least 30 points, and the Memphis Grizzlies built an early lead in a 115-95 victory over the Washington Wizards on Saturday night.
“I don’t think there’s too many teams more exciting than us,” Morant said about the team chemistry and exciting plays that are part of the Grizzlies’ makeup.
Morant, picked as an All-Star starter for the Western Conference this week, was 15 of 27 from the field, including 4 of 8 from 3-point range. Desmond Bane had 19 points, and De’Anthony Melton added 13 to help the Grizzlies win their third straight and fourth in five games. Steven Adams had 10 points and 15 rebounds. with Memphis controlling the boards 60-37.
“The big key to the game was making sure we were taking away the paint, and making sure we got the 50-50 balls, and we did that,” Memphis coach Taylor Jenkins said.
Kyle Kuzma led Washington with 30 points and eight rebounds. The Wizards have lost five straight.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope added 15 points, and Spencer Dinwiddie had 10 points for Washington. Scoring leader Bradley Beal was held to nine points, going 2 of 11 from the floor. He handed out 12 assists.
“I thought early we actually did a lot of good things defensively. Offensively, we struggled to make shots,” Wizards coach Wes Unseld Jr. said. “I think that took a little wind out of our sails. We got deflated with that.”
The Wizards had three full days off after squandering a 35-point lead in a 116-115 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on Tuesday night. With the loss Saturday, Washington dropped out of a tie with Atlanta for the 10th spot in the Eastern Conference.
The Grizzlies, who lost by 28 at Washington on Nov. 5, changed that direction early, building a double-digit lead that eventually reached 27 in the first half.
“We’re a much different team now than what we were back then,” Bane said about the improvement, particularly strides made on the defensive end. “We were kind of trying to find our identity, and they smacked us pretty good at their place.”
Now, it’s Washington trying to steady its way with a losing streak and questions about where they go from here. The loss dropped the Wizards out of a tie with Atlanta for 10th place in the East.
Unseld noted that the Wizards failed to control three major focuses of their game plan – Memphis scoring in the paint, in transition and Washington controlling turnovers. Memphis had 60 points in the paint, 17 fastbreak points and the 12 Washington turnovers resulted in 18 Grizzlies points.
Then there was the Memphis dominance on the glass, the Grizzlies grabbing 21 offensive rebounds leading to 36 second-chance points — a Memphis franchise record.
“You can’t give up 21 (offensive rebounds) for 36 points and think you’re going to win a game,” Unseld said.
In Unseld’s pregame media availability, a reporter noted that the Grizzlies lead the NBA in seven statistical categories and asked what the Washington needed to take away. Unseld quickly replied: “Six of ’em.”
In the third quarter, the Grizzlies put together a sequence that supported Morant’s claim that Memphis is one of the most exciting teams in the league. First, Desmond Bane had a chase-down block of a Spencer Dinwiddie layup. On the ensuing break, Jaren Jackson Jr. took the ball toward the basket before lobbing to Morant for a windmill alley-oop dunk. “I don’t remember the last time I saw (Bane) block a shot,” said Melton. “So, from there, we knew it was something special going on.”
“The easiest part was finishing it,” Morant said, adding that he really wanted to finish the dunk “between the legs.”
Wizards: Are 4-17 in Memphis since the Grizzlies moved from Vancouver in 2001. … A shift in the starting lineup; Thomas Bryant started at center, sending Daniel Gafford to the bench. It was Bryant first start of the season. He returned eight games ago from a left knee injury.
Grizzlies: Rookie F Ziaire Williams sat out with left knee soreness. With Williams unavailable, John Konchar started at forward. … F Kyle Anderson returning to action after missing the previous seven games under health and safety protocol. …Memphis has now won a dozen games in consecutive months for the first time in franchise history.