The Memphis Grizzlies’ search to fill the scoring void left by Desmond Bane’s absence continues when they face the visiting Oklahoma City Thunder on Friday night.
Bane was averaging 24.7 points and shooting 45.1 percent from 3-point range before sustaining a Grade 2 sprain of his right big toe last Friday against the Minnesota Timberwolves. The third-year pro is expected to miss two-to-three weeks.
Memphis averaged 117.5 points per game this season with Bane, compared to 99.7 points in three contests without him.
“He’s so important to what we do on both sides of the floor,” Memphis coach Taylor Jenkins said. “Next man up mentality is what we’ve always done. You can’t fill what Des does, but I’ve been challenging the guys every single day.”
The Grizzlies’ next challenge comes against the Thunder, who are wrapping up a stretch of four road games in six days.
Guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander matched a career high with 42 points to lead the Thunder to a 121-120 win over the Washington Wizards on Wednesday night.
Gilgeous-Alexander is playing at an MVP level for Oklahoma City, which has won three of its last four following a four-game losing streak. The fifth-year pro averages 31.5 points on 47.8 percent shooting.
“He’s very crafty,” Washington guard Bradley Beal said of Gilgeous-Alexander after Wednesday’s game. “He probably doesn’t blow you away with his speed. When you’re confident in yourself, and you’re playing at those levels, he doesn’t think anybody can guard him. He really has that mindset that he attacks everybody.”
Oklahoma City has also has receiving consistent play from forwards Aleksej Pokusevski and Luguentz Dort, who combined for 24 points Wednesday.
Coach Mark Daigneault praised his team’s clutch play after the Thunder improved to 2-3 in games decided by six points or less.
“We’ve built a habit of resilience and perseverance,” Daigneault said. “This group has built that collectively. It’s not just one person responding (late in games), it’s the whole group.”
Thunder forward Darius Bazley has missed the past four games with a sprained right ankle, while guard Tre Mann has sat out two games with low back soreness. Both are listed as day-to-day.
Friday’s contest features a matchup of two of the league’s top 10 scorers in Gilgeous-Alexander and Memphis star Ja Morant, who is averaging 29.3 points, 6.8 assists and 6.2 rebounds.
Morant had 36 points in Tuesday’s loss to the New Orleans Pelicans, who held the Grizzlies to 9-of-35 shooting (25.7 percent) from 3-point range.
Third-year guard John Konchar started in place of Bane against New Orleans and tallied nine points and eight rebounds in 37 minutes. Forward Dillon Brooks had 19 points on 6-of-18 shooting.
One bright spot for the Grizzlies was the return of forward Jaren Jackson Jr., who made his season debut on Tuesday after missing the first 14 games while recovering from right foot surgery.
Jackson had seven points on 3-of-14 shooting along with six rebounds in 25 minutes.
“I felt as good as I could have felt,” Jackson said. “There were probably moments where I got tired, but I didn’t play all that much. I’ll feel better game to game.”
–Field Level Media