Three Things to Know: Warriors struggled for answers for Morant, Grizzlies who have arrived

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Three Things is NBC’s five-days-a-week wrap-up of the night before in the NBA. Check out NBCSports.com every weekday morning to catch up on what you missed the night before plus the rumors, drama, and dunks going that make the NBA great.

1) Warriors struggled for answers for Morant, Grizzlies who have arrived

Golden State misses Draymond Green. A lot. When the Warriors beat the Suns on Christmas Day, Green got the Chris Paul assignment. Green often gets put on the opposing team’s best guard.

But with Green out (calf tightness), the Warriors had no answers for Ja Morant (the best option they had was Gary Payton II, but Young Glove didn’t get a chance until late in the first half). Morant is the hottest player in the league and he scored or assisted on 20 of the Grizzlies’ 28 first-quarter points. Morant finished with 29 points and eight assists, and late in the fourth he stuck the dagger in the Warriors.

The Grizzlies announced their presence with authority, picking up their10th straight win, 116-108.

What has been impressive is the growth of the Grizzlies as a team — this is not just the Morant show. Desmond Bane has been Memphis’ second-best player during the streak but he has had a rough night, 11 points on 14 shots. That’s when Tyus Jones stepped up with 17 off the bench, including some critical plays late, and Brandon Clarke was a force with 14 points on 6-of-9 shooting. (And all this without Desmond Bane, who sprained his knee and could miss a month or more.)

Those young, long, athletic Grizzlies both move the ball and move off the ball in a way somewhat reminiscent of a younger, peak Warriors team. Their length and athleticism make them aggressive defenders pushing for steals so they can get out and run — and the Warriors obliged early and got in a hole because of it.

Stephen Curry had a triple-double of 27-10-10, but the non-Curry starters shot 11-of-28 (39.3%). The usually reliable Jordan Poole was 3-of-11 off the bench. Curry did his best. It was not enough.

The Grizzlies would host a playoff round if the postseason started today, they are the fourth seed and a comfortable 5.5 games up on the Mavericks in fifth. In fact, they are closer to the Suns in first (3.5 back) than the Mavericks. Memphis isn’t just a playoff team, they are a legit top-four team in the West that will be a tough out for any team that considers themselves contenders. Morant isn’t just an All-Star, the question becomes, should he be a starter?

The Grizzlies are legit — this isn’t a grit-and-grind team winning ugly either. This team is dynamic, athletic, and a problem. If you have any doubts, ask the Warriors.

2) Brandon Ingram scores 10 in final 1:13, including game-winning 3 for Pelicans

Brandon Ingram is making his All-Star case.

He won’t be a starter, but when the league coaches vote for the West reserves it will be tough to leave Ingram off. Ingram is averaging 22.9 points a game, with 6.1 rebounds and 5.1 assists a night — he is the heart of the Pelicans offense this season.

Ingram made his case Tuesday night, topping off a 33-point game by scoring 10 points in the final 1:13 and draining the game-winner for the Pels.

The Pelicans got the win because they made their last nine 3-point shots. Josh Hart had 21 points and nine boards, while Jonas Valanciunas added 13 points and 12 rebounds for New Orleans.

3) COVID hitting NBA staffs hard as well, not just players

It’s hard to escape a discussion around the NBA about what players have been out in COVID protocols, what replacement players from the G-League are getting called up (and given minutes), and how the pandemic is impacting players for a third-straight season.

But it’s also hitting front offices hard, too, Baxter Holmes reported at ESPN.

Sources told ESPN that this season there have been more than 500 confirmed COVID-19 cases among 2,400 total Tier 1 staff — anyone working within 15 feet of players — across the NBA. The vast majority of cases among Tier 1 staff have also come within the past month, with more than 450 cases occurring from Dec. 7 to Jan. 10, sources said…

General managers across the league point out that while players can often be replaced by G-League backups, replacing core staffers who handle unique roles can prove to be much more challenging and impactful on day-to-day operations.

Yikes. Also, not that surprising considering the way Omicron has swept through not just the NBA but American society.

The staff numbers are a concern in part because some of them are older or have pre-existing conditions that could be an issue (something not the case with players, who are young and healthy).

The wave of the virus among players seems to be slowing (*knocks on wood*), and reports say not only are 97% of players vaccinated but also 70% have gotten the booster. There have been 11 games postponed this season due to the virus, but the league’s real hope is to have this issue largely in the rearview mirror by the time the playoffs begin in April.

Highlight of the Night: Devin Booker would like it golf quiet for his free throws

There are no fans in the Scotiabank Arena right now for Raptors games (a COVID measure for the Canadian regional government), which is a little jarring when you watch it.

The Raptors mascot is there, and he was jumping around trying to distract the Suns’ Devin Booker during a free throw — so Booker had the referee send him away.

Booker, this is not golf. You played in packed arenas all season with fans yelling at you during free throws and jumping around. Heck, you played at Kentucky and saw some organized behind-the-basket distractions. Give The Raptor a break.

Last night’s scores:

Washington 122, Oklahoma City 118
Phoenix 99, Toronto 95
Chicago 133, Detroit 87
Memphis 116, Golden State 108
New Orleans 128, Minnesota 125
LA Clippers 87, Denver 85