After a hard-fought 111-106 win over Portland ended a four-game road trip out West, the Memphis Grizzlies are riding momentum and will return home Friday to take on the slumping Charlotte Hornets.
The steady hand of point guard Ja Morant continues to run the show. Morant ranks fifth in the NBA in scoring (31.4 points per game) and is dishing out 6.4 assists per game.
But fellow guard Desmond Bane has been fantastic early on. After he sat out a Halloween loss to Utah with an ankle injury, Bane returned Wednesday and scored 20 of his 29 points in the fourth quarter to lead the Grizzlies to a victory over the first-place Trail Blazers.
“I started off slow but I’ve kind of found my rhythm, even without last game with my ankle stuff, but I feel good and I’m happy with the win,” Bane said.
Bane is averaging 24.9 points, 5.1 rebounds and 5.0 assists in 33.6 minutes in his third season in the league. His steady presence in the lineup has taken pressure off Morant and given Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins another reliable scorer.
Memphis has four players averaging double figures. In addition to Morant and Bane, the other two are small forward Dillon Brooks (14.6 points) and guard Tyus Jones (11.9 points).
That’s important because Memphis, despite its ability to score (117.3 points per game), has been one of the worst defensive teams in the NBA. The Grizzlies are allowing 119.5 points per outing, which ranks 26th in the league entering Thursday.
Charlotte is led on offense by veteran Gordon Hayward, who is questionable to play against Memphis due to a shoulder injury. Hayward left Wednesday’s game versus Chicago due to left shoulder soreness and did not return in the second half.
“It’s something that’s been going on for a couple of games and it’s been really sore and the pain got to be too much at halftime,” Charlotte head coach Steve Clifford said. “It’s something that’s been two or three games now that he’s played with it.”
Losing Hayward would be a blow to the Hornets, who have lost two straight and four of five. In the 106-88 loss to the Bulls, Charlotte shot just 7 of 32 from behind the arc.
“This wasn’t about effort,” Clifford said after the loss to the Bulls. “There’s short-handed and then there’s where we are at right now. This is tough stuff.”
Guards Kelly Oubre Jr. and Dennis Smith Jr. will need to pick up the slack if Hayward is unable to play Friday night. Oubre has been a major bright spot for the Hornets so far this season. The eight-year pro is averaging 17.4 points, 5.1 rebounds and 1.4 assists per game.
Smith has also been a pleasant surprise operating at the point. He is averaging 12.0 points, 4.3 rebounds and 6.4 assists per game.
Center Mason Plumlee has been an impact player in the post and will be challenged by the defensive presence of Memphis center Steven Adams.
If Plumlee (8.4 points, 7.9 rebounds, 4.3 assists per game) can score and facilitate like he’s done so far this season, it will give Charlotte a big boost on both sides of the court.
–Field Level Media