|Grizzlies visit Blazers, aim for 6th straight win|
The suddenly hot Memphis Grizzlies look to stretch their winning streak to six games when they visit the Portland Trail Blazers on Wednesday in the first of back-to-back games between the teams, both in Portland.
Memphis began its streak without Ja Morant and continued it with wins over the Philadelphia 76ers and Phoenix Suns after the return of the star point guard from an ankle injury.
Morant scored 17 points in each of the victories and recorded a season-high 10 assists in Monday's 108-104 home win over the Suns.
"Ja has a crazy good feel for the game," said Brandon Clarke, who scored 17 points against Phoenix for his seventh straight double-digit outing. "I feel like those first three quarters, he's just kind of like watching the defense, watching us, seeing what the defense gives him.
"By the fourth quarter, he's just kind of like already figured out everything with that, and he's able to get in the paint, get his shot off, and get his teammates shots."
Morant is averaging 22.6 points and 7.0 assists in five games played this season. He missed eight contests with the ankle injury.
This is the first matchup between the Grizzlies and Trail Blazers since the play-in game in the bubble near Orlando in mid-August. Ninth-seeded Memphis was going to need to defeat eighth-seeded Portland twice to reach the postseason and the Blazers only needed to win once, which they did with a 126-122 triumph.
The current Portland squad sustained injuries to starters Jusuf Nurkic (fractured right wrist) and CJ McCollum (fractured left foot) over back-to-back games last week.
Nurkic suffered his injury against the Indiana Pacers on Thursday and will miss approximately eight weeks. McCollum was hurt Saturday against the Atlanta Hawks. His injury was initially diagnosed as a sprain but further testing revealed a small fracture and he will be sidelined at least four weeks.
The McCollum injury is extra painful for the Trail Blazers because the 29-year-old was off to a superb start and averaging a career-high 26.7 points in 13 games.
Five-time All-Star Damian Lillard averages a team-high 28.1 points and has scored 35 or more points in three of the past four games. He had 35 against the San Antonio Spurs on Monday but the Trail Blazers were trounced 125-104 at home.
Portland's chances for a win evaporated by being outscored 38-22 in the fourth quarter.
"It wasn't the outcome that we wanted," Lillard said. "We're gonna believe in each other, we're gonna still have a high level of accountability and we're going to hold each other to that standard. I think next game we'll be better and we should expect it to be better."
Lillard made three 3-pointers to move into 17th place in NBA history with 1,828. He passed legendary Kobe Bryant (1,827).
Seldom-used Rodney Hood moved into the starting lineup against the Spurs and scored a season-best 21 points on 9-of-14 shooting in 25 minutes.
Hood figures to stay in the starting five as Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts would prefer to continue bringing sharpshooter Gary Trent Jr. off the bench.
That is definitely appealing to Hood, who is hoping to find his rhythm after scoring just 18 points all season prior to Monday.
"I feel like I got off to a better flow, just being in the game," Hood said. "Sometimes when you come off the bench, you never know when you [are] coming in. I just had a good flow coming in, Dame was trying to get me going real early, coaches trying to get me going real early because they know down the long stretch of the season, I'm gonna need to be back to myself. So (Monday) was a good start for me."
With Portland being short-handed, the Grizzlies will look to take advantage behind a strong bench that has scored 50, 47 and 49 points over the past three games. Grayson Allen has 16 against Phoenix and is also averaging 16 over the stretch.
Memphis will be without big man Jonas Valanciunas (COVID-19 health and safety protocols) for the second straight game.
The teams also play in Portland on Friday.
--Field Level Media