NBA

'Having fun' the priority for Morant after winning home return

By Sports Desk December 22, 2023

Ja Morant is prioritising having fun after he helped the Memphis Grizzlies to a 116-103 win over the Indiana Pacers.

On his first home game back from his eight-month suspension from the NBA, Morant had 20 points and eight assists as the Grizzlies won a second game on the bounce.

Having starred on his first game back to help Memphis snap a five-game losing streak, Morant's first aim on the court on Thursday was to ensure his team were enjoying their basketball.

"The tough part was not being able to be out there and enjoy and have fun with my guys, but now that I'm out there, I'm making sure that we're all having fun no matter what," Morant said.

"So that was pretty much just my message. You could just tell by the energy of the team.

"We catch a lob, you got the bench going crazy, you got the players screaming, yelling, dapping each other up. That's our type of basketball. That's how we are. That's the team we are, the people we are."

Desmond Bane led the Grizzlies with 31 points, adding six rebounds and seven assists, while Jaren Jackson Jr. contributed 21 points to Memphis' tally.

"Having those two guys alongside of me who can pretty much go and score the ball at will at different levels is big time for us," Morant added.

The excitement inside the FedExForum was palpable, with the home fans eager to see Morant back.

"It was great to feel that," said Bane.

"We've had several home games that weren't like that this season. Obviously, getting Ja back, everybody's super excited.

"You got to play the game with a lot of joy, and when you're losing and down, sometimes it's hard to find that spirit and that swag.

"But regardless, winning, losing, up, down, you got to have that fire and that fight. And I think we got that now."

The Pacers have been in poor form since losing to the Los Angeles Lakers in the final of the NBA's in-season tournament in Las Vegas, though did come into Thursday's game on the back of a resounding win over the Charlotte Hornets.

Pacers head Rick Carlisle said: "Overall, this was a tough game for a lot of reasons.

"We didn't play well, but we kept competing. I was really proud of the way the team kept their poise and their aggression.

"We got unlucky with some miscues and some missed shots."

Related items

  • Sixers hopeful on Embiid involvement after dropping Game 1 in Knicks series Sixers hopeful on Embiid involvement after dropping Game 1 in Knicks series

    The Philadelphia 76ers are hopeful Joel Embiid will be available for Game 2 of their playoff series against the New York Knicks after he suffered an injury scare during their defeat in Game 1.

    Embiid had 29 points, also adding eight rebounds and six assists, as the Sixers succumbed to a 111-104 defeat at Madison Square Garden on Saturday.

    He made one stunning play near the end of the first half, finishing with a one-handed dunk after passing to himself off the backboard, but that came at a cost as he then left for the final two minutes and 37 seconds of the second quarter.

    Embiid seemed to land awkwardly on his left leg after that play and immediately dropped to the ground before getting up and walking straight to the locker room. 

    Embiid rejoined his team-mates on the floor at the start of the second half, but with the reigning MVP recently missing two months after undergoing meniscus surgery, the incident left fans concerned.

    Philadelphia coach Nick Nurse is positive regarding his chances of featuring in Game 2 on Monday, saying: "He really is a warrior, and he's battling.

    "I think he absolutely wants to play. I knew when I went in at halftime that they were checking him out and that he was up and moving. 

    "They did say we are seeing, they didn't rule him out yet. They just took him all the way to the end there to get him ruled back in."

    The Sixers outscored the Knicks by 14 points during Embiid's 37 minutes on the court, being outscored by 21 points during the 11 minutes he spent out of the game. 

    Tyrese Maxey, who led Philadelphia with 33 points and was 14-of-26 shooting, says Embiid will suit up for Monday's contest if physically able to.

    "Nothing with Joel surprises me now," Maxey said. "He's always a fighter. He's always going to try and give it his all for his team. So if he thinks he can go, he'll for sure be out there."

  • 'A hell of a series' – Malone, LeBron looking forward as Nuggets beat Lakers in Game 1 'A hell of a series' – Malone, LeBron looking forward as Nuggets beat Lakers in Game 1

    Michael Malone believes the Denver Nuggets face "a hell of a series" against the Los Angeles Lakers, with LeBron James pledging to improve after his team were beaten in Game 1 on Saturday.

    The Nuggets and the Lakers faced off in the Western Conference finals last season, and they were reunited for Game 1 of this year's first-round series at Ball Arena on Saturday.

    It's advantage Denver after Nikola Jokic had 32 points and 12 rebounds in a 114-103 win over Los Angeles, their ninth victory in the teams' last nine head-to-head meetings.

    The reigning NBA champions were made to work for their success, though, having gone into halftime down 60-57, with James scoring 19 first-half points. 

    However, the NBA's all-time leading scorer was limited to just eight second-half points and didn't attempt a shot in the fourth quarter until the final 80 seconds.

    Though the Lakers ultimately ran out of steam, Denver coach Malone expects another tough test when the teams reconvene for Game 2 on Monday.

    "We're not going anywhere," Malone said. "This is the playoffs. No team in the playoffs, if you get down 12 early, you're not going to just take your ball and go home. 

    "We still have plenty of fight left in us and we know that we are better than what we were playing early.

    "That's a good team over there. They came into the playoffs playing extremely well, and they showed it. 

    "LeBron was on course, I thought he was about to have 50 points tonight, the way he was playing and shooting the ball.

    "We've got to watch the film to see what we can do better. This is going to be a hell of a series."

    James' 27 points came in support of Anthony Davis, who had 32, while the Nuggets had two other players match Jokic's double-double, with Jamal Murray tallying 22 points and 10 assists and Aaron Gordon adding 12 points and 11 rebounds.

    James, who is appearing in the playoffs for the 17th time in 21 seasons, says the team won't get too low with plenty of time remaining to rescue the series. 

    "I thought we played some good ball tonight, just could have been better," he said. "You don't have much room for error versus Denver, especially on their home floor.

    "They're just a team that's been through everything. Obviously, they're the defending champions, so you've got to execute, you've got to make shots, you've got to defend.

    "I don't ever get into the 'here we go again' mindset. It's one game, they protected their home court. We have another opportunity on Monday to come back and be better."

  • NBA: Jokic leads Nuggets; Knicks, Cavs, Wolves get Game 1 wins NBA: Jokic leads Nuggets; Knicks, Cavs, Wolves get Game 1 wins

    Nikola Jokić had 32 points and 12 rebounds and got ample help from his teammates as the defending NBA champion Denver Nuggets continued their recent mastery of the Los Angeles Lakers with a 114-103 win in their Western Conference playoff opener on Saturday.

    Jamal Murray tallied 22 points and 10 assists, Aaron Gordon added 12 and 11 rebounds and Michael Porter Jr. contributed 19 points and eight boards as the Nuggets won their ninth straight against the Lakers.

    Anthony Davis matched Jokic with 32 points and 14 rebounds and LeBron James scored 27 points, but D’Angelo Russell was held to 13 points on 6-of-20 shooting – including 1 of 9 from 3-point range – and Rui Hachimura managed just seven points in 31 minutes.

    Los Angeles hasn’t beaten Denver since Dec. 16, 2022, and will try again Monday in Denver, where the Nuggets are 34-8 this season.

    Denver’s lead was down to 103-96 with five minutes left but Porter Jr. hit a 3 and Jokic dunked off a turnover by James to push the lead to 12.

      

    Knicks’ reserves step up in win

    Jalen Brunson and Josh Hart each scored 22 points and the New York Knicks got a huge lift from their bench for a 111-104 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference first-round series.

    Deuce McBride outscored the 76ers by himself with 13 points in the second quarter and finished with 21 on 7-of-12 shooting, including 5 of 7 from long range. Bojan Bogdanovic added 13 points and Mitchell Robinson came off the bench to add eight points, 12 rebounds and four blocks.

    Joel Embiid had 29 points, eight rebounds and six assists and Tyrese Maxey scored 33 points for the 76ers, who will try to even the series in Game 2 on Monday.

    Embiid was listed as questionable to play and went down with 2:49 left in the first half with an apparent injury to his surgically repaired knee. He walked to the locker room area and missed the rest of the first half but returned to start the second.

    Hart made a pair of huge 3-pointers in the fourth quarter, the second extending the Knicks’ lead to 107-100 with one minute remaining.

     

    Edwards powers Timberwolves past Suns

    Anthony Edwards scored 18 of his 33 points in the third quarter and grabbed nine rebounds to lift the Minnesota Timberwolves to a tone-setting 120-95 win over the visiting Phoenix Suns in their series opener.

    Karl-Anthony Towns had 19 points, Nickeil Alexander-Walker added 18 and Rudy Gobert tallied 14 points, 16 rebounds and stellar defence to help Minnesota to its first home win in the playoffs in 20 years.

    Edwards keyed a 19-4 run to close the third quarter for a 20-point cushion and put a bow on his performance by stealing the ball from Kevin Durant and finishing with a slam on the other end to give the Timberwolves a 111-91 lead with 3:37 left.

    Durant scored 31 points on 11-of-17 shooting, but Devin Booker was held to 18 on 5 for 16 from the field. The Suns were outrebounded 52-28 and outscored 52-34 in the paint.

    Game 2 is in Minnesota on Tuesday before the best-of-seven series shifts to Phoenix for Game 3.

     

© 2023 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.