Morant returns to action, coming off the bench for the Grizzlies
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Two-time All-Star guard Ja Morant was greeted with a standing ovation and cheers throughout the arena on Wednesday night in his first action after missing nine games — eight due to an NBA suspension. .
Morant, who was not in the starting lineup against the Houston Rockets, entered the game after a timeout with 3:05 left in the first quarter, replacing starter Tyus Jones. The cheers began to mount as Morant rose from the bench and walked to the scorers’ table, adjusting the mask specially fitted to a previous broken nose.
The standing ovation and cheers peaked even before Morant was announced as entering the game.
The first cheers came when Morant came out of the locker room for pre-game warm-ups.
Memphis coach Taylor Jenkins said Morant’s decision to come off the bench was a collaborative decision after discussions with Morant and team medical staff. The Grizzlies are making sure Morant is preparing for game form. Memphis also went 6-3 during Morant’s absence contributing to the decision.
“It’s something he brought to the table as well as it was in my mind,” Jenkins said before the game. “So we collectively thought that was the best strategy at least for the first one or two games. Then we will kind of reevaluate after that.
It’s Morant’s first action since the Grizzlies lost March 3 in Denver. Hours after the game, Morant went live at a Denver-area strip club, briefly showing himself brandishing a gun.
It earned Morant an interview with NBA commissioner Adam Silver and $669,000 in salary for the suspension in which the league ruled his conduct was “detrimental to the league.”
Morant’s suspension ended with Saturday’s game against Golden State. He did not play in Monday’s game against Dallas as the team allowed him to work on conditioning before returning to action.
It happened Wednesday night. Jenkins said the star guard will likely play 20-25 minutes.
“We want to be really smart, not just in the first two games, but in the first week two.” Jenkins said. “We want to be smart with this layoff that we’re not doing anything to jeopardize his health as well.”
In his first comments since his suspension, Morant said Tuesday that he took counseling at a Florida facility during his suspension to deal with the stress of becoming one of the NBA’s most popular players.
His enthusiastic play, with high-scoring, jaw-dropping dunks, led to endorsements and increased uniform sales. Asked if the short period of counseling was enough to resolve his issues, Morant said it was an ongoing process.
Jenkins pointed out that Morant being used in a reserve role is simply an emphasis on transition.
“Eventually Ja will be our starter,” Jenkins said, making reporters laugh.
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