After experiencing some growing pains last season, the Memphis Grizzlies’ backcourt of Ja Morant and Desmond Bane is fast emerging as one of the best in the league.
The duo is trending upward heading into a Wednesday matchup against the visiting Los Angeles Lakers, who snapped a five-game losing streak with a 132-123 road win over the Houston Rockets on Tuesday.
Memphis has won two straight and seven of 10 after Morant scored 33 points and made a layup with 0.5 seconds left on Monday in a 114-113 road victory over the Phoenix Suns.
Nearly overshadowed in the win was another stellar outing from Bane, who made six 3-pointers and scored a career-high 32 points.
The second-year pro is averaging 17.2 points and making a strong case for the NBA’s Most Improved Player award. He averaged 9.2 points last season.
“I know he didn’t get a lot of publicity coming into the year, but I think his performances speak for the candidacy there,” Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins said. “He’s not motivated by that, he just wants to go out there and help us win.”
Bane’s scoring has been a welcome boost for the Grizzlies, who have starters Dillon Brooks and De’Anthony Melton in the league’s health and safety protocol.
The Grizzlies begin a brief two-game homestand against the Lakers, who are 7-8 on the road this season.
With forward Anthony Davis out for several weeks with a sprained MCL in his left knee, Los Angeles is leaning heavily on stars LeBron James and Russell Westbrook.
James had 32 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists in the Tuesday win over Houston, while Westbrook matched James’ triple-double with 24 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists.
James, who has scored 30-plus points in five straight games, started at center against the Rockets and led the Lakers to their first win since Dec. 15.
Westbrook bounced back after shooting 4-of-20 from the field and finishing with 13 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists with five fouls and three turnovers on Saturday in Los Angeles’ 122-115 loss to the Brooklyn Nets.
Lakers acting head coach David Fizdale, who is filling in for Frank Vogel while he is in the league’s protocol, said that Westbrook could be pressing in his first season with his hometown team.
“A big part of it is he just wants it so bad,” Fizdale said. “I mean, you can just see it in him, everybody does. He wants it so bad. And I know that’s just hard for him when it doesn’t work out. And I know he cares like crazy. I just want him to take a lot of that pressure off himself, keep attacking, keep playing the way we know he can.”
The Lakers have Trevor Ariza, Kent Bazemore, Austin Reaves and Rajon Rondo in the league’s protocol and used their 19th different starting lineup Tuesday.
One bright spot has been the play of guard Malik Monk, who has averaged 22.5 points in two games since returning from the league’s protocol.
Los Angeles has split its first two meetings this season against Memphis, winning 121-118 on Oct. 24 despite Morant scoring 40 and losing 108-95 on Dec. 9 even though Morant was sidelined.
Morant is averaging 22 points and 6.8 assists in four games since returning from a 12-game absence caused by a knee injury. He provided another signature moment Monday with the game-winning bucket against the Suns.
“I like being in those pressure situations, I like taking on that challenge,” Morant said. “It was a big-time win for us against a great team.”
–Field Level Media