MikeCheck: Morant mindset fuels fearless approach as Grizzlies face challenging start to season
Fresh off completing a near-flawless performance in the Grizzlies’ season-opening home victory the other night, Ja Morant perhaps delivered his best effort after the game.
Morant’s scoring and playmaking were fabulous.
His postgame evaluation and perspective were even more on point.
“I know what it takes for us to get to that next level,” Morant surmised after the Grizzlies passed their first official test of the 82-game schedule. “My job is to continue to push us to get to that next level, continue on the floor to be a leader. We’ve got everybody we need. We’ve just got to continue to grow with each other and go out and play.”
If his words don’t quite reveal it, his relentless approach to this season certainly does.
Morant isn’t into any excuses. He’s only focused on execution.
That Morant mindset leads the Grizzlies into the fire of a treacherous four-game trip coming off their record-setting, 132-121 victory against the Cavaliers on Wednesday at FedExForum. That slate begins with a weekend back-to-back set in Los Angeles against two NBA title contenders in the Clippers on Saturday and the Lakers on Sunday.
And from there, the Grizzlies close the journey with another back-to-back set on Wednesday and Thursday against the Trail Blazers and Warriors. It’s all part of an early stretch in which the Grizzlies will play eight of nine games against teams that either made the playoffs last season or participated in the NBA’s Play-In Tournament.
So, it comes as no surprise that Morant is determined to attack the start of his third NBA season the way he storms up and down the court with the basketball in his hands. Morant’s mission to set the tone for the Grizzlies this season was evident from the outset in Wednesday’s opener, when he scored 20 of his game-high 37 points in the first half and attempted a career-high 29 shots from the field.
That take-charge approach is one the Grizzlies need from their catalyst as they begin the season with second-leading returning scorer Dillon Brooks still recovering from a fractured hand. It’s also essential as Memphis incorporates three new starters in wing players De’Anthony Melton and Desmond Bane, along with a veteran newcomer in center Steven Adams.
And it’s absolutely necessary as the Grizzlies give a healthy Jaren Jackson Jr. the space and cover to gradually develop his stride alongside Morant as one of the NBA’s top young tandems.
I’m really proud of his leadership throughout, just encouraging guys when there were some tough times, and then just to see him make his mark, especially in that fourth quarter, was big for us to get that win.
Having opened the season with the third-youngest roster in the league, and no player over the age of 28, coach Taylor Jenkins knows that there will be early growing pains this season. But the progress the Grizzlies made through the preseason offered glimpses of just how prepared this team is to face any adversity ahead.
Jenkins believes Morant’s ability to adapt his game to any situation necessary is one of the biggest strengths the Grizzlies carry into the grind of an 82-game regular season.
“We really haven’t had a ton of time yet to really go through these end-of-game moments in the preseason, and to get to it in that first game is awesome,” Jenkins said of Morant's ability to take over in the late stages as the Grizzlies pulled away from Cleveland. “I’m really proud of his leadership throughout, just encouraging guys when there were some tough times, and then just to see him make his mark, especially in that fourth quarter, was big for us to get that win.”
Balance for the Grizzlies will be key to success this season.
We’ve been at this for two, three years (together), so I think we’re all growing up together. We all understand what it takes to win. It’s not easy in this league.
Scoring will be needed beyond Morant’s binges, particularly against the caliber of teams Memphis will face on this upcoming road trip. There will need to be a repeat of the multiple players who scored in double figures on opening night, when Bane added 22 points and Melton chipped in 20. Teamwide defense and rebounding must remain priorities, with Jackson, Adams and Kyle Anderson combining for 27 of the team’s 53 boards.
As first impressions go, the Grizzlies couldn’t have painted a more productive picture offensively on the way to setting franchise opening-night records for scoring (132) and made three-pointers (14).
“We’re all grown up,” Melton said of the collective energy and production he’s seen from the team’s blossoming core. “We’ve been at this for two, three years (together), so I think we’re all growing up together. We all understand what it takes to win. It’s not easy in this league.”
And it certainly won’t be easy over the coming days as the Grizzlies grind their way along the road against some of the elite teams in the Western Conference.
But there’s a fearless young leader steering these Grizzlies, one whose opening-night performance was hardly a fluke. In fact, Morant isn’t taking a backseat to anyone this season while pushing the Grizzlies forward.
“Experience is pretty much all I can say,” Morant said of what’s driving him this season. “The main thing I’ve been telling our team is that we’ve got to win (in different ways). We’ve got to win the pretty ones and the ugly ones. We’ve got a few things to work on, but we’ll be fine.”
Morant will make headlines for his highlight plays this season.
But it’s his solid foundation and astute perspective that keep the Grizzlies deeply rooted.
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