Memphis overwhelmed Milwaukee from the opening tip in their 142-101 win as they took a 15-point lead after the opening period and extended it to 39 by halftime. The Bucks were without their starting point guard Jrue Holiday, but his absence alone cannot explain the wide disparity in performance between these two teams during their match-up.
Milwaukee, currently the second seed in the Eastern Conference, came out flat and paid the price.
The Grizzlies, whose win put them in solo first place in the Western Conference standings with a 19-9 record, take their cues from Ja Morant and he was out to prove a point versus two-time NBA Most Valuable Player Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Morant had his third triple double of the season, putting up 25 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists, one steal, and only one turnover in just 25 minutes of action. He did make only five-of-eight free throws which remains the only glaring weakness in the 23-year-old’s game.
Now in his fourth year in the NBA, Morant’s numbers have continued to trend higher and he is averaging 27.7 points, 1.8 threes, 6.6 rebounds, 7.8 assists, and 1.2 steals which are all career-highs.
Last year’s NBA Most Improved Player has also scored at least 25 points in 14 of the 23 games that he has appeared in during this campaign. If he can remain healthy–and this is a big “If” for the injury prone guard–and Memphis can maintain its place as a top-two seed in the West, it should only be a matter of time before he joins Antetokounmpo and Boston Celtics star Jayson Tatum in this year’s NBA MVP discussion.
Beyond Morant, seven other Grizzlies, including five reserves, scored at least 10 points which highlights the depth of this team that is legitimately 12-deep.
Memphis is now on a seven-game winning streak and they have won nine of their last 10 outings despite missing starting guard Desmond Bane who has been out since mid-November with a toe injury. The Grizzlies have yet to field their “Big Three” of Morant, Bane, and Jaren Jackson, Jr. together in a game this season which makes their strong start even more impressive.
After they took the league by surprise last year by securing the second seed in the Western Conference before bowing out in the second round, this Memphis team is no longer catching opponents off guard. They are now respected around the league as a legitimate title contender and coming in unprepared will have its consequences as the Bucks experienced in the drubbing that they just received.
These Grizzlies may still be young, but they are raring to make a name for themselves and it will not come as a surprise if they wind up hoisting the Larry O’Brien championship trophy this June. Morant is now a full fledged star for Memphis and his teammates are providing him with all the support that he needs to put this team in a position to win.