Ja Morant Dazzles with 27 as Grizzlies Blow out LeBron James, Lakers 105-88

Blake SchusterCorrespondent IMarch 1, 2020

Memphis Grizzlies guard Ja Morant (12) reacts after an assist to center Jonas Valanciunas (17) in the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Los Angeles Lakers, Saturday, Feb. 29, 2020, in Memphis, Tenn. (AP Photo/Brandon Dill)
Brandon Dill/Associated Press

The Memphis Grizzlies bounced back in a big way following Friday's loss to the Sacramento Kings, defeating the Los Angeles Lakers, 105-88, at FedEx Forum. 

With the top team in the Western Conference in town, the Grizzlies snapped L.A.'s seven-game win streak in epic fashion as Rookie of the Year leader Ja Morant poured in 27 points.

Los Angeles is currently working through a stretch of three games in four nights that started with LeBron James missing Thursday's action in Golden State. The King returned to the court on Saturday to no avail as a desperate Grizzlies team continued its push for the postseason. 

With Memphis and the New Orleans Pelicans battling for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference, each game has a bit of heightened intensity at this point. Memphis entered the night holding a two-game lead over a surging Pelicans team led by Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram. 

The Grizzlies needed a victory to snap a five-game slide—especially after New Orleans defeated Cleveland on Friday. 

Notable Performers

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  • Ja Morant, PG, Grizzlies: 27 points, 14 assists, six rebounds
  • Jonas Valanciunas, C, Grizzlies: 22 points, 20 rebounds
  • Anthony Davis, PF, Lakers: 15 points, nine rebounds, four assists
  • LeBron James, SF, Lakers: 19 points, 10 assists, eight rebounds

Morant's Signature Rookie of the Year Performance

The only unfortunate aspect for the Grizzlies on Saturday was that their game against the Lakers somehow wasn't nationally televised. Had it been, this would be the Morant game league voters would point to when it comes time to name the the Rookie of the Year.

Morant played as fearlessly as he did flawlessly, routinely attacking the paint and going after Anthony Davis whenever he could.

The rookie point guard finished with 27-plus points for the third time this season, but it's the first where he also tallied at least 14 assists, matching his career-high. 

Of course, there were plenty of plays that defied any statistical quantification:

Morant is a walking highlight reel whose games have become must-see. On one of the most impressive nights of the year for the Murray State alum, much of the league was looking elsewhere. 

That likely won't be the case much longer. 

Lakers Sleepwalk in Memphis 

On the first night of back-to-backs on the road, Los Angeles looked like a shell of itself, turning in arguably its worst performance of the season. The loss to Memphis marked the Lakers' third-worst defeat of the season— behind a 32-point loss to the Boston Celtics on January 20 and being taken down by 24 points against the Denver Nuggets on December 22—yet L.A. scored its fewest points of the year against the Grizzlies.

That's despite James falling just two rebounds shy of a triple-double and Anthony Davis shooting 7-of-12 from the field. The duo were the only Lakers starters to score in double figures. 

Yet, because this is the team to beat in the West, even an off night looked like it could break L.A.'s way. With just under seven minutes remaining, the Lakers cut the Grizzlies' lead to nine points and looked ready to apply pressure. 

Instead, it was Memphis punching back and defeating Los Angeles for the first time in four tries this season.

Saturday marked the final time the two teams will play each other in 2020. Unless, that is, Memphis hangs on to the eighth seed, in which case it may very well face the Lakers in the first round of the playoffs. 

What's Next

The Lakers continue their road trip with a stop in New Orleans for a matchup of two of the league's biggest stars right now. Los Angeles took down Williamson and the Pels on Feb. 25 in L.A. Now New Orleans has a chance to return the favor. 

Memphis, meanwhile, begins a crucial three-game road trip to Atlanta, Brooklyn and Dallas on Monday. 

     

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