MEMPHIS, Tenn. – Ja Morant sat out with an injured right hand Wednesday night as the Memphis Grizzlies tried to avoid falling into an 0-2 hole in their first-round Western Conference playoff series against the Los Angeles Lakers.
The No. 2-seeded Grizzlies announced about an hour before tipoff that the two-time All-Star point guard was inactive. Coach Taylor Jenkins said before the game that Morant worked with the medical team throughout the day and was steadily improving in what he called an “hour to hour” situation.
“All the testing he’s doing, grip, dribbling, all that stuff,” Jenkins said of what Morant had been doing. "Just feeling confidence in that right hand, that’s kind of the final test.”
That leaves Tyus Jones starting at point guard for Memphis.
Jones has led the NBA in assist-to-turnover ratio for five straight seasons, the longest such streak in NBA history. Jenkins said it's awesome to have Jones when they need him to step into a different role and sees the veteran being key to revving up Memphis' transition offense.
Jenkins said the Lakers worked to take the Grizzlies out of their transition offense in winning Game 1 on Sunday. The Grizzlies set a franchise record for points scored on the fast break, and the Memphis coach said a big part of the Lakers' game plan was taking that away.
“They want us to score in the mid-range and the floater game,” Jenkins said. "We took too many of those. We missed so many windows of opportunity. Tyus does a phenomenal job with that, and whether it’s playmaking or scoring, whatever his role is, Tyus does a great job in that.”
Morant hurt his right hand driving to the basket with 5:48 left in Sunday's opening loss to the Lakers, appearing to awkwardly bend his hand as he hit the court. He didn't return after an X-ray was negative, and an MRI on Monday showed the fourth-year guard suffered no ligament damage.
The Grizzlies had listed Morant as questionable, with Jenkins calling Morant a game-time decision after a Tuesday practice where the guard was seen during the open portion using only his left hand to dribble and take a couple shots or rebound the ball.
Jenkins said Morant did test his right hand Tuesday by dribbling and shooting and would do more Wednesday. Memphis did not hold a shootaround Wednesday morning.
Morant's biggest issue is pain and bruising between the bones, though Jenkins said the guard's symptoms had improved from Sunday. Morant aggravated an injury from April 7, when Memphis clinched that No. 2 seed for a second straight season.
The point guard set a franchise scoring record with 26.2 points per game this season. He missed the final three games of the Grizzlies' last playoff series, a six-game loss in the West semifinals last year to eventual champion Golden State, with an injured knee. ___
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