The Denver Nuggets, like every NBA team that was in action on Sunday, played through the fog and sadness of the sudden and tragic death of former NBA great Kobe Bryant earlier that day.
Players admitted after their 117-110 win over the Houston Rockets that it was tough to focus on the game after hearing the news not long before tip-off. One thing that got them through was the thought that Bryant’s love for the game meant they should play through the pain.
“To be honest, when you think about Kobe it’s, ‘No excuse. Nothing can put your mind off what you love to do.’ It’s the Mamba mentality for sure,” Denver center Nikola Jokic said.
The Grizzlies had the same mentality in their game against the Phoenix Suns on Sunday. Memphis took a 24-second shot clock violation in honor of one of Bryant’s jersey and the Suns took an 8-second violation to honor his other jersey number.
Grizzlies forward Jaren Jackson Jr. said it was tough to play in the win over the Suns.
“I didn’t feel like doing it, to keep it 100 (percent),” Jackson said after the game. “You’ve got to be a pro. That’s what (number) 2-4 stood for and there’s no better way to go out there and honor him than to play pro basketball, what you love to do, so that’s what we did today. Both teams.”
The mourning continues for the basketball world, but the NBA season marches on, and the Nuggets and Grizzlies will face each other in Memphis on Tuesday night. Denver has won the first two meetings between the teams, including a 131-114 rout at the FedEx Forum on Nov. 17.
Their last meeting was Dec. 28 in Denver, which the Nuggets won by nine, but it is a different Grizzlies team a month later. Memphis has won 10 of the 15 games played since then to climb into the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
Jackson, the second-year player out of Michigan State, has led the way with 18 points a game but the Grizzlies have gotten production up and down the roster. Five players are averaging in double figures.
Memphis will be without guard Grayson Allen for the foreseeable future. The guard suffered a hip injury in a win over Detroit on Friday and the team recalled Joshua Jackson from the G-League.
Denver has been dealing with injuries all season and is down three of its top rotation players. Power forward Paul Millsap (left knee contusion) will miss his 10th straight game, point guard Jamal Murray (left ankle sprain) will sit for the seventh straight and big man Mason Plumlee (right foot injury) has missed three games.
The Nuggets have gotten some key production from others. Guard Malik Beasley has seen his minutes increase and rookie forward Michael Porter Jr. has stepped up big over the last month despite missing a game last week because of back tightness.
Porter has averaged 15.5 points and 10.3 rebounds in his last four games and has two double-doubles in that stretch.
The Grizzlies will need to stop Jokic, who has stepped up his production with all of the injuries. Jokic notched his ninth triple-double of the season against Houston on Sunday and has 21 double-doubles over the last 27 games.
–Field Level Media