Ja Morant, Grizzlies try to bounce back vs. Raptors

NBA Basketball

The Memphis Grizzlies will wrap up a three-game trip Saturday night with a visit to Tampa to face the Toronto Raptors.

The Grizzlies (33-33) will try not to squander a chance to improve their position in the Western Conference playoff chase, as they did on Thursday by losing to the lowly Detroit Pistons 111-97.

Memphis missed a chance to move to eighth in the conference and instead fell back to ninth — a half-game behind the Golden State Warriors.

“Second night of a back-to-back, but that’s no excuse,” Memphis’ Jaren Jackson Jr. said. “We’ve just got to be ready all the time.”

Ja Morant had 20 points, and Jonas Valanciunas had 19 points and 16 rebounds to lead Memphis, which scored a combined 38 points in the second and third quarters in the second game of their ninth back-to-back set since the All-Star break.

Memphis has only six games remaining with which to solidify its place in the play-in tournament. After facing Toronto, the Grizzlies will close with four of five games at home, facing New Orleans, Dallas, Sacramento (twice) and visiting Golden State — all of which are in playoff or play-in contention.

“We’ve had it before … I’ve seen it,” Jackson Jr. said. “We can do it. It’s nothing that’s foreign to us. It’s just a matter of doing it when it matters.”

Memphis will face Toronto (27-40), which is on the brink of elimination following a frustrating 131-129 overtime loss to the Washington Wizards on Thursday.

The Raptors, whose season has been marred by injuries and COVID-19 issues, have lost five of their past six games and are four games behind the Wizards for the final play-in spot with five games to play. Three of those five losses have come by five points or less.

Should the Raptors be eliminated, it will snap a string of seven consecutive seasons of making the playoffs.

“I know it’s really easy to kinda say, ‘Look, it’s a close game’ and whatever, but I think it’s tremendous that we’re playing the hottest, best teams in the league and outplaying them, giving them everything they want,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said.

Pascal Siakam tied his career-high with 44 points and Fred VanVleet hit a tying 3-pointer with 1.3 seconds left in regulation to send the game to overtime.

But in OT, the Raptors went through one stretch of about 14 seconds during which they could have cut a four-point deficit and given themselves a better chance to win down the stretch. Toronto collected three offensive rebounds yet missed three consecutive second-chance opportunities, including three from 3-point range.

“It felt like everybody had a pretty good opportunity to knock a shot down,” said Gary Trent Jr., who scored 25 points in his first game back after missing the previous six with a left-leg contusion. “We’ll take those looks from anybody on any given day, and they just so happened to not fall during that possession.”

Memphis’ Grayson Allen (left abdominal soreness), Sean McDermott (left-foot soreness) and Xavier Tillman (illness) were out against Detroit.

Toronto’s Chris Boucher (knee) missed his eighth game in a row while OG Anunoby (strained left calf) missed his third in a row. Kyle Lowry (rest) sat out for the third time in the past four games.

–Field Level Media

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