As the race for the eighth seed in the Western Conference heats up, the Memphis Grizzlies have found themselves scuffling.
However, that was far from the case in this one, as Ja Morant led the Grizzlies to a blow out win over LeBron James, Anthony Davis and the Los Angeles Lakers, 105-88.
On a night where the Grizzlies were able to put their playoff credentials on full display, here are some takeaways from an entertaining game in Memphis.
Rookie of the Year?
As Zion Williamson has taken the league by storm since making his NBA debut, the Grizzlies have been losing and Ja Morant has been slumping.
Morant's scoring average of 17.9 points per game in February coming was actually up on his season average of 17.4, but his efficiency has taken a hit as he has struggled to shoot just 17.2 percent from behind the 3-point line.
Tonight @JaMorant became the second rookie in @NBA history to record 27+ points and 14+ assists in a game against the @Lakers, joining Oscar Robertson. pic.twitter.com/3uojFdoZyE- Grizzlies PR (@GrizzliesPR) March 1, 2020
As injuries have taken their grip on the young Grizz, Morant had seemingly hit the wall. That was until LeBron James and Anthony Davis came to town, as an energised Morant exploded for 27 points and a career-high tying 14 assists.
The Rookie of the Year favourite dazzled in this one, relentlessly exploding to the basket for highlight reel finishes and eye popping passes to open teammates as the Lakers continued to drawn in his direction.
12 vs. the rim.- Memphis Grizzlies (@memgrizz) March 1, 2020
Winner: 12. pic.twitter.com/YnWV5o5IQx
Overall, Morant finished 10-for-16 from the field and 4-for-6 from beyond the arc, in his best individual performance in some time.
The monster night helped snap a five game losing streak, strengthening their grip on the final playoff spot in the West.
LeBron plays major minutes on return
After missing the Lakers last outing with groin soreness, James returned to the lineup despite being listed as questionable in the lead up to tip-off.
Having missed just three games this season while averaging 34.9 minutes per contest, the words 'load management' certainly do not apply when it comes to 16-time All-Star.
LeBron James vs. the three bears 💪💪💪 pic.twitter.com/5Z8Wr7E9Sp- Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) March 1, 2020
Nonetheless, any mention of groin soreness does raise some alarm bells given James missed extended time a season ago with a serious groin injury.
Hardly easing his way back into the fold, James saw 34 minutes of action against the Grizzlies, finishing with 19 points, eight rebounds and 10 assists.
While the Lakers failed to pick up the win, they do sit comfortably in the No. 1 seed and all that matters at this point is the health of James and Davis.
First round preview?
If the season were to end today, the Lakers and Grizzlies would battle it out in a best-of-seven series to tip-off the NBA playoffs.
With a win tonight, the Grizzlies improved to 29-31 on the season, 2.5 games ahead of New Orleans in the eight spot.
The Lakers own a 45-13 mark and a commanding 5.5 game lead over the Denver Nuggets and LA Clippers for first place.
With the Pelicans breathing down their neck, tonight's win was critical to the Grizzlies hopes of clinging on for their first postseason berth since 2017 but as the stretch run picks up steam, keep your eyes on the first two picks of the 2019 NBA draft, because it's looking increasingly likely they will each be leading their squads in a battle to see which rising star will make their NBA playoff debut.
Fittingly, the Lakers will now move on to meet Zion and the Pelicans tomorrow, in another game carrying real playoff implications.
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