Grizzlies ready for heavyweight battle with Nets

National Sports

The Memphis Grizzlies own the notable distinction of being the only team to defeat the heavyweights of the Western Conference in the Golden State Warriors, Phoenix Suns and Utah Jazz this season.

Ja Morant played a significant role in those victories, and he and the rest of the Grizzlies will get a crack at another upper-echelon team Monday night in a visit to the Brooklyn Nets.

Morant heads into Monday’s game averaging 24.7 points a game this season and 26.5 points in six games since returning from a 12-game absence due to a sprained knee and the NBA health and safety protocol. The Grizzlies were 10-2 in his absence, and Morant is averaging 30.5 points during their current four-game winning streak.

Morant has scored at least 30 points in three straight games for the first time in his career. He started it by capping a 33-point night with the game-winner in Phoenix on Dec. 27, scored 41 two nights later in a five-point win over the Los Angeles Lakers, and then finished with 30 in Friday’s 118-105 win over the San Antonio Spurs.

“I’m just taking what the defense gives me,” Morant said in his on-court interview with Bally’s Sports Southwest. “My teammates always tell me to be aggressive. These last couple of games, I’ve been real aggressive and looking for my shot and also just making the right play.”

The Grizzlies are 14-4 in their past 18 games and coming off a showing against the Spurs in which where they allowed 44 points in the second half, tied a season high with 11 blocked shots and scored 72 points in the paint.

The Nets have faltered against upper-echelon opponents all season, going a combined 0-6 against the Chicago Bulls, Milwaukee Bucks, Miami Heat, Golden State and Phoenix.

Brooklyn also is looking to avoid three straight losses for the first time this season and a fourth straight home loss following fourth-quarter collapses against the Philadelphia 76ers and Los Angeles Clippers. The Nets scored five points in the final 3 1/2 minutes Thursday in a 110-102 loss to Philadelphia and were outscored 28-11 in the final 5:57 and blew a 13-point lead in Saturday’s 120-116 loss to the Clippers.

“I just think (giving up) 71 points in the second half is unacceptable,” Nets coach Steve Nash said. “We just never really had the care factor.”

The Nets are on their first losing streak of the season despite getting stars Kevin Durant and James Harden back from the NBA health and safety protocol and being close to full strength.

Harden has three of his seven triple-doubles since returning Dec. 25, and Durant has at least 30 points in five of his past six games.

On Saturday, Harden totaled 34 points, 13 assists and 12 rebounds for his third 30-point triple-double since returning. Durant finished with 28 points, but the Nets gave up 40 points in the fourth quarter and missed 9 of 11 3-point tries in the final 12 minutes.

“We’re going to continue to get our (butt) kicked if we don’t approach the game in a proper way,” Durant said. “It’s about the group and everyone coming out here and being the best we can. Tonight wasn’t one of those nights.”

Memphis has won the past four meetings and five of the past six with the Nets, including three overtime victories during that span.

–Field Level Media

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