Anthony Edwards claimed the Minnesota Timberwolves were "playing eight-on-five" due to the "terrible" officiating in their win over the Oklahoma City Thunder at the top of the West.

The T-Wolves opened up a lead to the Thunder at the top of the conference courtesy of a 107-101 victory in which Edwards scored 27 points.

But rather than revel in that win, Edwards focused on the referees after the game, furious with one particular call that saw a potential foul go unpunished after he drove to the basket inside the final two minutes.

The former first overall pick accepted he would be punished for his comments but did not appear to care.

"I'm going to take the fine, because the refs did not give us no calls tonight," he told the television broadcast, adding to ESPN: "The refs were bad tonight. Yeah, they were terrible. We were playing eight-on-five."

Edwards could at least take comfort in the result, saying: "The cat got their tongue tonight, so it's all good. It's not fair, but it's all good."

The 22-year-old was not alone in taking issue with the officiating in the NBA on Monday as Anthony Davis argued Dillon Brooks should have been ejected in the Los Angeles Lakers' loss to the Houston Rockets.

Houston were already well on their way to a 135-119 win when Brooks tussled with LeBron James and left the Lakers superstar on the floor holding his face, while the same Rockets player appeared to shove Jarred Vanderbilt in the air before the LA man was himself ejected following an altercation between the pair.

"You take a hard foul," said Davis. "It's part of basketball.

"But you're just not going to blatantly push someone in their back when they have no control of their body in the air. I think he should have got ejected for that.

"And then obviously you know that him and Bron have their whatever, and from what I saw, it was just a blatant hit on LeBron to the face."

Two weeks ago, Memphis Grizzlies forward Dillon Brooks created controversy with a few insults directed at superstar LeBron James.

He reportedly will no longer be making any more questionable comments as a member of the Memphis Grizzlies.

The unrestricted free agent was informed by the Grizzlies on Tuesday that they will not be bringing him back "under any circumstances," according to Shams Charania of The Athletic.

Memphis told Brooks of the decision in an exit meeting, with his showing in the Grizzlies' first-round series against the Los Angeles Lakers coming as the final "breaking point," according to the report.

Brooks made headlines after the Grizzlies evened their series against the Lakers with a Game 2 win on April 19, when he took a shot at the league's all-time leading scorer.

In addition to calling James "old", he said: "I poke bears. I don't respect no one until they come and give me 40 [points]."

Brooks' comments backfired, as the Lakers responded by winning the series in six games – including a 125-85 thrashing in Friday's clincher.

While the 38-year-old James stepped up his play in the series, Brooks seemed to shrivel.

After taking his jab at James, Brooks averaged just nine points on 28 per cent shooting and 22.2 percent on 27 three-point attempts in the series' final four games.

This came after Brooks averaged 14.3 points on 39.6 per cent shooting and 32.6 per cent on three-pointers in 73 regular-season games in 2022-23.

He did not talk to the media after the Grizzlies' three losses in Los Angeles, and was subsequently fined $25,000 for violating the league's rules regarding media interview access.

The 27-year-old ended up speaking to the media during the team's exit interviews on Sunday, but said he had no regrets about the comments he made.

"That's who I am," he said. "I don't regret it. I'm a competitor, I compete. I don't think it got LeBron geeked up."

Memphis Grizzlies wing Dillon Brooks accused the media of painting him as a "villain", leading to the decision to eject him for a flagrant 2 foul in Saturday's 111-101 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers.

Brooks was kicked from the game early in the third quarter after his left hand struck LeBron James' groin. The incident came following trash talk from Brooks directed at James, who he called "old" after Game 2.

The Grizzlies forward, who dodged reporters after Saturday's game, claimed the incident was an accident when he spoke on Sunday, before claiming his reputation had been affected by the media's portrayal of him, factoring into the officials' decision to eject him from Game 3.

"The media making me a villain, the fans making me a villain and then that just creates a whole different persona on me," said Brooks, who has been ejected from games three times this season.

"So now you think I intended to hit LeBron James in the nuts. I'm playing basketball. I'm a basketball player.

"So if I intended – and that's whatever is in the flagrant 2 category – if you think I did that, that means you think I'm that type of person.

"I've been dealing with this [for] two years now. It is what it is. The fans can talk s***, whatever they want to. It doesn't matter to me.

"I'm going to keep playing my game and get better and better each and every day and as long as my career goes."

It has been widely reported that Brooks will be free to play in Game 4, avoiding any suspension for the flagrant 2 foul.

"I knew I wasn't going to be [suspended]," Brooks said. "They can't dictate this series like that.

"[Referee] Marc [Davis] probably had to call that 'cause of what happened [in Game 3] with James Harden, and that's just unfair. I get penalised, and I can't help my team try to make a comeback in the second half."

James got the last laugh against the Grizzlies in Saturday's game, having refused to be drawn into Brooks' narrative in the lead-up, scoring 25 points with nine rebounds in the Lakers' win.

Despite that, Brooks did not regret his provocation, or "poking bears" as he called it.

"Am I saying anything that's not facts?" Brooks said.

LeBron James has done and seen it all during his 20-year NBA career, so the Los Angeles Lakers superstar was not about to be drawn into a war of words with Memphis Grizzlies forward Dillon Brooks.

James refused to respond when asked about Brooks' comments after practice on Friday before the teams meet in Los Angles for Game 3 of their first-round series on Saturday.

"I’m not here for the bulls***," James said before cutting off his media availability after sidestepping Brooks-related questions for roughly five minutes. "I'm ready to play and that's it."

Brooks took a shot at James after the Grizzlies’ 103-93 victory in Game 2 evened the series, doubting the veteran’s effectiveness at this point in his career.

"I don’t care – he’s old. You know what I mean?" Brooks said Wednesday after staring down James on the floor when he hit a three in the fourth quarter. "I was waiting for that. I was expecting him to do that Game 4, Game 5. He wanted to say something when I got my fourth foul. He should have been saying that earlier on. But I poke bears. I don't respect no one until they come and give me 40."

James didn’t place any significance on the extracurricular activity.

"The game is won in between the four lines. Always has been and always will be," James said.

Lakers forward Rui Hachimura weighed in on Brooks’ comments.

"I heard about. I’m not really into social media, but I heard about it," he said. "Honestly, that’s all they can do. They’re a young team. They just want to talk. We just don’t really care. We’re going to play our game and we’re trying to win the games."

Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James may be the most recognisable figure in the NBA, but the Memphis Grizzlies' Dillon Brooks is enjoying showing his rival no respect.

The Grizzlies beat the Lakers 103-93 on Wednesday in Game 2 of their first-round playoff to tie the series, with Brooks and James competing at close proximity.

Brooks exchanged heated words with James in the third quarter after his fourth foul allowed the NBA's all-time leading scorer to sink a couple of baskets to reduce the Grizzlies' lead to 14.

James apparently called Brooks "dumb" for his antagonistic approach, which the 27-year-old snapped back at.

Brooks, who is regarded as one of the NBA's fieriest wing defenders, suggested James' behaviour showed he was wilting under pressure a little earlier than expected.

Speaking of his confrontation with the 38-year-old James, Brooks said: "I don't care – he's old. You know what I mean? I was waiting for that.

"I was expecting him to do that Game 4, Game 5. He wanted to say something when I got my fourth foul.

"He should have been saying that earlier on. But I poke bears. I don't respect no one until they come and give me 40."

James has never posted 40 points in 13 games against Brooks, reaching 28 on Wednesday as the Lakers fell well short.

But more opportunities will arrive as the series progresses, and Brooks – who managed just 23 minutes on court due to his persistent fouling – is seemingly looking forward to more tussles.

"I said, 'Oh, finally you want to talk,' then we started to get into a conversation," Brooks continued.

"I just let him know that, 'You can't take me one-on-one. You haven't.' You go look at the film; he doesn't really take me one-on-one until that moment.

"Then when he got subbed out, he was tired. So I did my job."

There was a cutting tone to much of what Brooks said about James, though some of his comments were undercut with a hint of respect.

"He's not at the same level that he was when he was on Cleveland winning championships, Miami," Brooks added.

"I wish I got to see that. It would have been a harder task, but I'm playing with what I've got.

"Just wear and tear on him throughout a seven-game series and see if he can take it. See if he wants to play the one-on-one battle or if he wants to be out on the sidelines shooting the basketball."

The Grizzlies and Lakers will contest Game 3 of the series on Saturday at the Crypto.com Arena.

Dillon Brooks has been fined $35,000 by the NBA for the "unsportsmanlike act" of pushing a camera person.

The Memphis Grizzlies guard-forward could be seen nudging the camera operator while trying to retrieve a loose ball during the second quarter of the 138-119 defeat to the Miami Heat on Wednesday at Miami-Dade Arena.

A statement from Joe Dumars, the NBA's executive vice president and head of basketball operations on Friday confirmed that Brooks had been "fined $35,000 for the unsportsmanlike act of shoving a camera person on the sideline after pursuing a loose ball".

It is not the first time this year that Brooks has been in disciplinary trouble, having been judged to have committed a Flagrant Foul 2 and ejected from the Grizzlies' game with the Cleveland Cavaliers last month after a scuffle with Donovan Mitchell in which he hit his opponent in the groin.

Brooks was suspended for one game without pay for the incident.

He got into a war of words with the Golden State Warriors' Draymond Green before and after a game earlier this month, also bumping chests with Green on court during the Grizzlies' win against the defending champions.

Brooks is averaging 14.2 points per game this season.

Draymond Green and Dillon Brooks continued their feud following a well-timed matchup between the Golden State Warriors and the Memphis Grizzlies on Thursday.

The days before the game had been dominated by the two players trading barbs, most notably on Green's podcast as he responded to criticism from Brooks.

Green's rant concluded: "Next time you speak up on me, I hope you're in a better situation than you're in now, where the guys you play with actually enjoy playing with you, because they actually think you're contributing to winning.

"Because it ain't happening right now, champ. Ah – you're not a champ. You're a clown. It ain't happening for you."

Brooks was able to respond on the court on Thursday as he led a Grizzlies team still missing Ja Morant to a 131-110 victory over the Warriors.

But Green again had a riposte, saying: "Anybody can win in March. Anybody can win in March. What does that mean? I have a hard time getting out of my bed in March. What's a game in March mean?"

There was a flash point late in the second quarter when the pair bumped chests, yet Green said he would not be "baited" by Brooks.

In the eyes of the Warriors man, this is still not a game that means more than any other.

"One team has to win [a championship] and then another team has to win," Green said. "That's what creates a rivalry.

"Not because one team gets up for you and talks like they can beat you and then not. That doesn't create a rivalry.

"Rivalries are created by you win, I win. Clearly, we've won four times, and I think their organisation has zero championships, so I can't consider that a rivalry."

Still, Brooks disagreed, adding: "They don't ever forget. When they won the championship, they were talking about us.

"They don't ever forget who the Memphis Grizzlies are. They get up and they can't wait to play us."

Both Dillon Brooks and Donovan Mitchell will pay the price for their part in an on-court altercation on Thursday night.

The NBA announced Friday that Brooks was suspended one game without pay and Mitchell was fined $20,000 for their roles in a scuffle.

Brooks swung and struck Mitchell in the groin area during the third quarter after the Grizzlies guard had fallen to the floor. Mitchell retaliated by throwing the ball at Brooks and then shoving him.

Both players were ejected in Cleveland's 128-113 win.

"That’s just who he is," Mitchell said after the game. "We’ve seen it a bunch in this league with him. Him and I have had our personal battles for years. There's no place for that in the game. This has been brewing for years with me and other guys in the league. This isn't new."

The league said Brooks will serve his suspension on Sunday, when the Grizzlies host the Toronto Raptors.

"I'm not typically someone who gets ejected for stuff like that," Mitchell said. "But at the end of the day, I think my reaction was reacting to a cheap shot. If punishment doesn't come from that, he's just going to keep doing it.

"It's just dumb to be honest with you and I'm going to appeal it because I don't think I should've gotten ejected for defending myself."

Before his ejection, Mitchell had scored just six points in 22 minutes while being guarded by Brooks. The two had matched up regularly when Mitchell played for Utah.

"That was cool when we were just talking, but that right there, a line has to be drawn," Mitchell said. "The NBA has to do something about it. I'm not the only person this has happened to and there's no place for that in this game."

Memphis Grizzlies guard Dillon Brooks has been suspended without pay from Game 3 against the Golden State Warriors for his flagrant two foul on Gary Payton II.

Brooks was ejected less than three minutes into Game 2 for a foul described as "unnecessary and excessive contact… resulting in substantial injury" when he hit Payton in the head as he attacked the rim, causing an awkward fall on his extended arm underneath the basket.

With Payton – who was the primary defender on Grizzlies star Ja Morant – ruled out of the game, Morant exploded for 47 points to carry his side to a 106-101 win to even the series.

He will miss the rest of the series after being diagnosed with a fractured elbow as well as ligament and muscle damage.

It is reported that Payton may be able to return for the NBA Finals if the Warriors are to make it that far, while Brooks will return for Game 4.

Gary Payton II suffered ligament and muscle damage along with a broken left elbow in the Golden State Warriors' defeat to the Memphis Grizzlies – but he might not be out of the playoffs just yet.

The Grizzlies' Dillon Brooks was ejected in the first quarter of Tuesday's game for a nasty-looking strike across the head of Payton in midair, which was followed by a rebuke from Warriors head coach Steve Kerr.

Kerr said that Brooks "broke the code" of the sport with that incident, claiming it had been "dirty" play.

The Warriors were beaten 106-101 by the Grizzlies, leaving their Western Conference semi-finals series locked at 1-1 ahead of the next tussle on Saturday.

While Payton will not feature again against the Grizzlies in this series, it appears he could have a role to play if the Warriors go any deeper into the playoffs. For now, the plan is to assess his condition in two weeks' time.

A Warriors team statement said: "Gary Payton II, who exited Tuesday's Game 2 in Memphis after sustaining an injury to his left elbow, underwent an MRI yesterday in the Bay Area. The MRI confirmed a fracture in the left elbow, in addition to ligament and muscle damage. He will be re-evaluated in two weeks."

The Warriors also offered an update regarding veteran Andre Iguodala, seemingly ruling out a return until at least Game 6, should the series with the Grizzlies go so far.

"Andre Iguodala, who has missed the team's last three playoff games due to a disc injury in his neck, is making good progress in his recovery and will be re-evaluated again in one week," the Warriors statement read.

A seething Steve Kerr accused Dillon Brooks of "breaking the code" after an incident that left Gary Payton II with a broken left elbow.

Kerr's Golden State Warriors went down 106-101 to the Memphis Grizzlies, leaving their Western Conference semi-finals series locked at 1-1, in a heated match full of flashpoints.

The Grizzlies' task was made all the more difficult when Brooks was ejected in the first quarter for a nasty-looking strike across the head of Payton II in mid-air.

An X-ray later showed the extent of the damage caused and Payton II is set to undergo an MRI scan on Wednesday.

Kerr acknowledged the physicality of playoff basketball but was fuming with Brooks' play.

"I don't know if it was intentional but it was dirty," Kerr told reporters after the game.

"Playoff basketball is supposed to be physical. Everyone will compete, fight for everything. But there's a code in this league, a code players follow, where you never put a guy's season or career in jeopardy by taking someone out in mid-air and clubbing them across the head and ultimately fracturing Gary's elbow. 

"This is a guy who's been toiling the last six years trying to make it in this league, finally found a home, playing his butt off this year – in the playoffs it should be the time of his life and a guy comes in and whacks him across the head in mid-air. 

"He broke the code. Dillon Brooks broke the code that's how I see it."

Another heated incident saw Draymond Green raise his middle finger towards the Grizzlies fanbase, who jeered the Warriors star after an elbow to the face left him with a cut to his right eye that had nearly swollen shut by half-time.

Green was unrepentant after the game, saying: "[If] you gonna boo somebody who got elbowed in the eye, face running with blood you should get flipped off. 

"So, I'll take the fine, I'll do an appearance and make up the money. But it felt really good to flip 'em off, if you gonna boo someone who got elbowed in the face with blood running down their face, I could have had a concussion or anything. 

"If they gonna be that nasty, I can be nasty too. I'm assuming the cheers are because they know I'll get fined. Great, I make $25million a year I should be just fine."

Ja Morant was the hero for the Grizzlies, scoring 47 points – matching his postseason high – despite himself struggling to see out of his left eye having been hit going for a rebound in the third quarter.

The All-Star guard atoned for missing a layup in Game 1 that would have won the Grizzlies the game, a defeat he conceded was at the forefront of his thinking during Tuesday's contest.

"That loss was on my mind a lot, obviously missing that layup late," Morant said. 

"But coming into today, I told myself we needed a win, and we were going to get a win. I just took it upon myself to go out there and do that for us."

Memphis Grizzlies star Ja Morant took joy in inflicting pain on the Minnesota Timberwolves fans in attendance of their 104-95 win.

Memphis' win, to go up 2-1 in the seven-game series, came after not taking their first lead until 7:09 remaining in the fourth quarter.

The Grizzlies fell down by 26 points in the second quarter, and were able to pull the margin back to seven points at half-time, before the Timberwolves extended it back out to 25 points in the third term.

Trailing 83-62, the Grizzlies scored 21 consecutive points to tie things up, before pushing on and finishing the game on an eye-watering 50-13 run, including a 37-12 final quarter.

Ja Morant struggled to score as the Timberwolves backed off him and dared him to shoot long jump shots all night, finishing five-of-18 from the field, but he worked his way to a triple-double with 16 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists and three blocks – the first playoff triple-double in Grizzlies history.

Before the game, Morant told reporters he wanted to send the Wolves fans home "mad", and he stood by his comments when chatting with post-game media.

"[Backing up my comments felt] good," he said. "I'm disrespectful just like [Timberwolves fans] are disrespectful.

"That's why you saw me throw the ball in the air [at the end] – I asked for the ball [for that specific purpose]. 

"I know what we're capable of, and like I said this morning, that was our goal, to come and win games on the road and have their fans go home mad. There will probably be a lot of people drinking tonight [in Minnesota], with that 'L'."

Morant spoke about his team's never-say-die attitude, and gave a shout-out to the role players who he says "won this game for us".

"The message was just to continue to fight – go out and battle – because we all know the game is never over until there's zeroes on the clock at the end," he said.

"It's the same thing I've been saying all season about my teammates – they deserve a lot more respect and recognition for what they do for us on the floor. 

"Us three [Morant, Jaren Jackson Jr and Dillon Brooks] struggled, but that's why we've got [Tyus Jones] and the rest of our teammates to pick us up. We're really the deepest team in the league, and we're so good.

"Those three guys [Jones, Brandon Clarke and Desmond Bane] were very big-time for us. Tyus coming in and being the floor general, controlling the pace and knocking down some big-time shots for us during that stretch where 'Des' and 'BC' were alongside of him. 

"That picked us up – a lot of credit goes to those guys – I feel like they pretty much won this game for us."

Dillon Brooks has again criticised Andre Iguodala for not having "the vision" to see what this Memphis Grizzlies team would become.

Iguodala and the Golden State Warriors lost 123-95 in Memphis on Monday, falling five games behind the second-placed Grizzlies in the Western Conference.

For Iguodala, it was a fourth game against the Grizzlies and second return to Memphis since he was traded to the team by the Warriors in 2019.

The former NBA Finals MVP chose not to play for the Grizzlies in a 2019-20 season in which they finished with a 34-39 record and eventually secured a trade to the Miami Heat before heading back to the Bay Area in 2021.

Iguodala's wish to sit on the sideline while a young Grizzlies team battled in the NBA was criticised by guard Brooks, then in his third season.

"I can't wait until we find a way to trade him, so we can play him and show him really what Memphis is about," Brooks said in comments shared on social media by Ja Morant, prompting a back-and-forth with Warriors superstar Stephen Curry.

Neither Morant nor Curry played on Monday due to injury, but Iguodala moved to 0-4 against the Grizzlies since leaving the team.

"[The team] has developed a lot [since then]," said Brooks, who scored 21 points on nine-of-15 shooting.

"We all had the vision and he didn't, which is perfect. Send him back to the Warriors and let him do his thing over there.

"From the beginning, we were growing a base, we had a base, then we just kept building and building and building, and more guys got on the train.

"We were able to create something like this and keep building this dynasty."

The Grizzlies are now a sensational 18-2 without Morant this year, but the Warriors are just 3-9 without Curry.

After the game, in which Golden State coach Steve Kerr was ejected, Iguodala said: "What we can't do is play the blame game when things don't turn out the way they should.

"We had such a great start, things were panning out, and injuries in professional sports you get bit by and you just keep moving forward.

"We've got a group of guys where I think we can get it done. Hopefully we can get healthy, but one thing we have to do is realise that we have to be smart about how we start to implement guys.

"Steph's out and you can't replace that – he's one of the top players ever. We don't want to rush him back or put too much pressure on him, that's how you get another injury.

"That's kind of what happened to me all year, trying to rush back, so we've got to try to be smart about it, try to hold down the fort.

"Interestingly enough, we're going to have to use the playoffs to get better, too. That's just the situation."

As one of only two NBA teams that have never won a division title, the Memphis Grizzlies are in prime position to cut that number in half this season.

Since joining the NBA as the Vancouver Grizzlies in 1995-96, Memphis have finished second five times but have never captured a division crown. The Charlotte Hornets are the only other franchise never to win a division title, though they did finish in a three-way tie for first place in the Southeast in 2015-16 but lost the title to the Miami Heat on a tie-breaker.

Roughly two months into this season and Memphis sit atop a weak Southwest Division with the franchise's first division title a distinct possibility.

No division has a worse composite record than the Southwest with Memphis (17-11), the Dallas Mavericks (14-13), San Antonio Spurs (10-16), Houston Rockets (9-18) and New Orleans Pelicans (8-21) combining for a 58-79 record (42.3). Weaker division opponents certainly will not hurt the Grizzlies' cause, but they appear more than capable of beating just about any team, evidenced by their 13-6 record against the Western Conference.

While Ja Morant has established himself as one of the game's young superstars in his third season, what is most impressive about the Grizzlies is how they have performed without him.

Morant has not played since November 26 due to a sprained left knee and he then entered the NBA's health and safety protocols after testing positive for COVID-19 on December 8.

Somehow, Memphis have been even better with their leading scorer on the shelf, going an inspired 8-1. Prior to this stretch, Memphis were 6-9 in Morant's career when he missed a game.

It has been a dominant run for the Grizzlies, who have outscored opponents by 176 points in those nine games. Since November 28 in their first game without Morant, the Grizzlies rank fifth in the NBA in points per game (113.7), ninth in three-pointers made (112) and lead the league in total rebounds (449) and total steals (108).

Clearly, Memphis are much more than just Morant.

During a five-game winning streak – all without Morant – the Grizzlies led every game from wire-to-wire before the run ended with a 104-96 loss to visiting Dallas on December 8. Included in that five-game surge was a stunning 152-79 thrashing of the Oklahoma City Thunder for the largest margin of victory in league history.

Memphis only rank 20th this season in opponent points per game (109.2) but something has clicked with the defence allowing a league-best 94.1 points during this 8-1 stretch. In the first 19 games this season, Memphis held foes to 101 points or fewer just twice but have done that seven times in the past nine contests.

Memphis are 13-1 (92.9) this season when holding opponents under 110 points. Only the Phoenix Suns (18-0), Charlotte (7-0) and Brooklyn Nets (15-1) have a better winning percentage in such games.

Maybe it was Morant's absence that forced the rest of the team to turn up the defensive pressure, but whatever the reason Taylor Jenkins' team now know they can win either with offense as they rank sixth in the league in scoring (111.0) as well as at the opposite end of the court.

Perhaps no victory was more indicative of what the Grizzlies can do than last Thursday's 108-95 win over the Los Angeles Lakers. Despite missing Morant and starting guard Dillon Brooks (health and safety protocols), Memphis set a franchise record with nine steals in the second quarter en route to a season-high 18 and became just the second team in the past 13 games to hold star-laden Los Angeles under 100 points.

Several players have stepped up to fill the void left by Morant and none bigger than second-year guard Desmond Bane. A serious contender for the Most Improved Player award, Bane has taken a huge step forward in his sophomore season to become much more than a shooter with his usage rate going from 16.1 to 22.3 per cent.

In the nine games without Morant, Bane has averaged 17.1 points, 5.6 rebounds and shot 44.8 per cent from three-point range (26 for 58). He averaged 15.5 points and 3.8 rebounds while connecting on 37.4 per cent (46 for 123) from deep in the season's first 19 games. His points per game average has risen from 9.2 in 2020-21 to 16.0 this season – his plus-6.8 improvement only bettered by Reggie Jackson (+6.9), Miles Bridges (+7.1) and Tyrese Maxey (+8.7) among players to have played in 70 per cent of team games in both campaigns.

When a team's leading scorer misses time, the second-leading scorer is asked to pick up most of the slack and Jaren Jackson Jr. has answered that call.

During the 8-1 stretch, Jackson is scoring 21.1 per game on 50.4 per cent shooting, including 38.5 per cent (20 for 52) from beyond the arc. In 19 games played with Morant this term, Jackson averaged 14.8 points on 39.7 per cent from the field and 33.7 per cent from long range.

Jackson has scored 25 points or more in four of his last seven games after having only one such game through his first 20 this season.

With 25 points and five blocks in a win over the Toronto Raptors late last month, Jackson became just the third Grizzlies player to reach both those totals in a game since the team moved to Memphis. Pau Gasol (six games) and Marc Gasol (four games) are the only others.

Memphis' defensive improvement is clearly a team-wide concept, but Dillon Brooks may be the player most responsible. Brooks did not make his season debut until November 10 due to a broken left hand and the team clearly missed his intensity and leadership.

In 14 games this season with Brooks in the line-up, Memphis have surrendered 103.6 points per game and held opponents to 44.0 per cent shooting. In the 14 games he has missed, the Grizzlies have given up 114.9 points with opponents making 48.3 per cent of their shots.

Taking over at the point in Morant's place has been Tyus Jones, who had the best assist-to-turnover ratio in the league each of the last three seasons and is on his way to doing it again with 119 assists to 21 turnovers (5.67).

The biggest improvement in Jones' game has been his three-point shooting, making 40 percent of his first 65 attempts after he hit on just 32.1 per cent last season.

One area where Memphis have excelled all season is on the boards.

The Grizzlies rank third in the NBA in total rebounds (1,323) and tied for second in offensive rebounding (358). Steven Adams leads the way with 8.6 per game but gets plenty of help as Memphis are tied for second in the league with seven players averaging at least four boards per contest.

Those rebounds play a role in helping Memphis top the NBA in both second-chance points (479) and points in the paint (1,504).

With Phoenix and the Golden State Warriors looking like world beaters right now and the Utah Jazz not far behind, Memphis have been able to fly under the radar in the Western Conference.

While there is no telling how Morant's return will affect the Grizzlies, the team have done all the little things in his absence and that can only help them in their quest to finally hang a division championship banner at FedEx Forum.

© 2023 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.