MikeCheck: Morant out three-to-five weeks with ankle injury as Grizzlies regroup amid road grind
Memphis, Tenn. – Already down three key players due to injuries and absences, the Grizzlies begin another difficult adjustment process with star point guard Ja Morant expected to miss three-to-five weeks to recover from a sprained left ankle.
The NBA’s reigning Rookie of the Year, Morant was officially diagnosed with a Grade 2 left ankle sprain after undergoing an MRI test on Tuesday. Morant suffered the injury late in the second quarter of Monday’s overtime win in Brooklyn when he landed awkwardly after contesting a shot taken by Nets forward Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot.
Morant immediately hopped off the court and collapsed near the Grizzlies bench as trainers and staffers retrieved a wheelchair to escort the second-year catalyst to the locker room. Initial X-rays taken at Barclays Arena did not reveal a break or fracture to the ankle.
Morant eventually returned to the bench for the second half to support his teammates and was active in timeout huddles as the Grizzlies pushed toward a 116-111 win for their first victory of the season. Morant seemed to remain in good spirits on Tuesday as the Grizzlies moved on to Boston in advance of Wednesday’s game against the Celtics.
The Grizzlies (1-2) did not practice Tuesday, but Morant used his social media account to post several spiritual and encouraging messages for his nearly one million followers on Twitter.
“God I know you got me,” Morant tweeted late Tuesday afternoon once the MRI results were confirmed by the Grizzlies in a news release.
“I know God is working, so I smile,” read another of Morant’s tweets on Tuesday.
Through his first two games of the season, Morant ranked among the NBA’s top scorers and is averaging 26.3 points, 6.3 assists and 2.3 rebounds while shooting 54.5 percent from the field. A five-week absence would mean Morant would miss the final game of this month in addition to potentially all 16 games in January.
The Grizzlies had already opened the season without star power forward Jaren Jackson Jr. and versatile swingman Justise Winslow, two other starters who continue to rehab knee and hip injuries, respectively. Although Jackson and Winslow have shown encouraging progress in their recovery and workouts, the team has given no definitive timeframe for their return to action.
Top reserve guard De’Anthony Melton also continues to be away from the team under the NBA’s COVID-related health and safety protocols.
The absence of Morant now leaves the Grizzlies, theoretically, without four of their six most productive players as they look to build on last season’s finish in the thick of the Western Conference postseason race.
Just for this group to rally... with the depth of our team, it sends a shock for a second. But we got great contributions up and down the entire lineup. We just kept grinding. It was just staying in the moment. A moment like that can really test you, but our guys just kept fighting.
“Every setback is a setup for a comeback,” Morant shared from his social media account late Monday night. “God wants to bring you out better than you were before. Heard you.”
Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins praised his team’s resilience as they regrouped from adversity after losing their leader midway through the game.
“It was so tough to see Ja go down, (but) we know he’s going to be fine,” Jenkins said as the Grizzlies shifted their focus toward the remaining two games on the trip. “Just for this group to rally... with the depth of our team, it sends a shock for a second. But we got great contributions up and down the entire lineup. We just kept grinding. It was just staying in the moment. A moment like that can really test you, but our guys just kept fighting.”
The battles certainly don’t get any easier moving forward. The Grizzlies are in the midst of a very difficult schedule to open the season. After Wednesday’s game against the Celtics, the trip ends on Friday against the Hornets in what shaped up as a homecoming of sorts for Morant.
It was during last season’s trip to Charlotte where Morant made a driving layup for the game-winning basket in front of hundreds of relatives and friends from his South Carolina hometown. Morant will only be a spectator for Friday’s visit before the Grizzlies return to FedExForum for a two-game series against the defending champion Lakers on Sunday and Tuesday.
It’s next man up. That’s what we’ve been as a team, and that’s what it’s going to take for us to keep fighting and facing these challenges ahead.
The Grizzlies are coping with an extensive list of injuries and absences already this season. In addition to Morant, Melton, Jackson and Winslow, Memphis remains without rookies Xavier Tillman (knee), Killian Tillie (hamstring) and Jontay Porter (knee).
Two weeks into the schedule, the Grizzlies are down to barely 10 healthy bodies. It was this time a year ago when Morant returned from a two-week absence from an early-season back injury to spark his run to become a near-unanimous rookie of the year pick.
The Grizzlies aren’t overwhelmed by the challenge ahead. But they know the task requires everyone to elevate their games to a higher level in order to remain competitive until the team’s overall health improves in the coming weeks.
“That’s one thing we don’t worry about on this team, is everyone sticking together on and off the court,” said veteran forward Kyle Anderson, who finished with a career-high 28 points to help open the trip with a victory. “It’s next man up. That’s what we’ve been as a team, and that’s what it’s going to take for us to keep fighting and facing these challenges ahead.”
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