Ja Morant, Grizzlies eye return to winning ways vs. Magic

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With three losses in the past five games, the Memphis Grizzlies missed some opportunities to move ahead of the Golden State Warriors for second place in the Western Conference.

However, Memphis remains in a favorable position as it prepares to host the Orlando Magic on Saturday night.

The Grizzlies enter the weekend trailing Golden State by one-half game — the Warriors will be in Los Angeles to face the Lakers on Saturday — while the Magic will be playing for the fourth time in six days.

Memphis still ranks as the third highest-scoring team in the league, and superstar guard Ja Morant has averaged 40 points over the past five games.

Morant not only ended February by topping his career high in consecutive games, but he also posted the two highest single-game, regular-season point totals in franchise history: 46 against the Chicago Bulls on Feb. 26 and then 52 against the San Antonio Spurs on Monday.

Saturday marks the second and final regular-season game between Memphis and Orlando. The Grizzlies earned a 135-115 victory on Feb. 5 in Orlando as Morant paced seven players in double figures with 33 points — the most ever scored by a Memphis player against the Magic.

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The Grizzlies are coming off a 120-107 road loss to the Boston Celtics on Thursday. Memphis attempted 40 or more 3-pointers (13-for-40) for only the seventh time this season. The Celtics attempted 10 fewer field goals, but they still held a scoring edge in made 3-point baskets (30-29), 3-pointers (16-13) and free throws (12-10).

Morant finished with 38 points on 13-for-29 shooting and teammate Desmond Bane had 17 points, hitting five 3-pointers. The Grizzlies managed only 45 points in the first half and were behind by 11 after three quarters.

“(The Celtics) were daring us to shoot threes and we couldn’t make a shot,” Memphis coach Taylor Jenkins said postgame. “And when we got into the paint, you know, just against a little bit of physicality, we didn’t finish. I thought we got great looks. I mean, we had wide-open shots from the 3-point line, and it was just miss after miss.

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“So, definitely part of their game plan is to take away the paint and switch and pick up soft and take away. I’m glad we still got 52 points in the paint. But until that fourth quarter when (Bane) and Ja got going, we couldn’t buy a bucket.”

Orlando opened a back-to-back set on Friday with a rescheduled game against the host Toronto Raptors, stemming from a Dec. 20 postponement caused by COVID-19 issues.

The Magic ended a nine-game, head-to-head losing streak against Toronto with a 103-97 victory. Cole Anthony had 15 points and 12 rebounds and Jalen Suggs added 15 points, seven assists and six rebounds before gingerly leaving the floor with just over two minutes left.

Markelle Fultz (knee) did not play due to injury management, but he is expected to be in the lineup against Memphis.

The Magic were also without Wendell Carter Jr. (non-COVID illness), and reserve center Moritz Wagner missed his ninth straight game because of a left rib contusion.

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“It was really just a great team win,” Anthony said. “We all fought, we stayed very composed, we didn’t start to panic when (the Raptors) went on their runs. And we just stayed super-composed, and that’s a really good ‘W’ against a team that’s been very good at home.”

Memphis forward Dillon Brooks, who has not played since Jan. 8 due to a sprained left ankle, was listed as out against Orlando. Kyle Anderson (foot) is questionable for the Grizzlies.

–Field Level Media

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