NBA

Morant still feeling 'mixed emotions' after returning off bench for Grizzlies

By Sports Desk March 22, 2023

Ja Morant says he still had "mixed emotions" upon his return for the Memphis Grizzlies on Wednesday following an eight-game suspension.

Morant had not played since March 3, missing nine games in total, following an incident where he displayed a gun in a Colorado nightclub on an Instagram Live video, but returned off the bench in the 130-125 win over the Houston Rockets.

The Grizzlies guard received a standing ovation from the Memphis guard upon checking into the game with 3:05 left in the first quarter in a show of support. He finished the game with 17 points, four rebounds, five assists and two steals from 24 minutes.

Morant spent 11 days at a Florida counselling facility after stepping away from the Grizzlies to "get help" following the incident, with the NBA later imposing the suspension.

In the lead-up to the game, the All-Star had revealed the whole incident and fallout had taken its toll on him mentally and emotionally, which he reiterated after his return despite the support of the Grizzlies fans.

"It felt good," he told ESPN after the game. "Still a little bit of mixed emotions, but I was excited to be back. I love these guys, I love our fans, I love the organisation for their continued support throughout this process I'm going through. They helped me a lot.

"I was excited to be back. Happy we were able to get a win. Just got to continue what I've been doing and be ready to go each and every night."

Grizzlies head coach Taylor Jenkins said pre-game that the decision to play Morant off the bench was about helping him work his way back into playing shape, having not been able to work out during his stay in Florida. Morant had started the first 240 games of his NBA career.

Morant had been left out of Monday's 112-1208 win over the Dallas Mavericks, where he sat on the bench and also received warm support from the home crowd, following the conclusion of his suspension to build up his conditioning.

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

"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 jeopardise his health."

The Grizzlies' win combined with the Mavericks (36-37) losing 127-125 to the Golden State Warriors clinched the Southwest Division for Memphis (45-27).

"It's big time," Morant said. "We love that we won the division, but we're trying to win a championship, so we've got to continue to do the little things that were helping us win games and continue to do the things that we've been doing good."

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