Grizzlies' Ja Morant comes off bench in return vs. Rockets

March 22, 2023, 8:39 PM

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- All-Star point guard Ja Morant came off the bench for the first time in his career Wednesday night against the Houston Rockets, something he suggested to the  Memphis Grizzlies' coaching staff as he returned from an eight-game suspension.

Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins said Morant, who sat out Monday's win over the Dallas Mavericks because of conditioning concerns after being away from the team for two weeks, would be on a minutes restrictions in the low 20s.

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

Morant checked in for the first time with 3:05 remaining in the first quarter and received a standing ovation from the Memphis crowd. He made an immediate impact, recording three points, one rebound, two assists and one block in the closing three minutes of the quarter.

The Grizzlies went 6-3 in the nine games Morant missed, winning six of their past seven. Point guard  Tyus Jones averaged 16.3 points and 8.2 assists while shooting 50.9% from the floor and 40% from 3-point range during that stretch.

Memphis plans to gradually ramp up Morant's minutes over the next few games. He was not able to work out during the 11 days he spent in a Florida counseling facility after he livestreamed a video of himself brandishing a handgun at a Denver-area strip club, which resulted in the league-imposed suspension for conduct detrimental to the NBA.

"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 jeopardize his health," Jenkins said.

Morant, who leads the Grizzlies with 27.1 points and 8.2 assists per game, started the first 240 games of his NBA career.

The Grizzlies will host the Rockets again on Friday then hit the road against the Atlanta Hawks on Sunday.