Ja Morant returns, scores 21, has highlight plays as Grizzlies rout Pelicans


MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Ja Morant had 21 points and nine assists in his return from soreness in his right knee, Dillon Brooks scored 23 points and the Memphis Grizzlies routed the New Orleans Pelicans 141-114 on Saturday night to tie the 2012-13 franchise record for victories in a season at 56.

After missing nine games, Morant played almost 27 minutes as the second-seeded Grizzlies got their starting lineup back together in preparation for the postseason. They will close the regular season at home against Boston on Sunday night.

Morant had not played since he was injured in a loss at Atlanta on March 18.

“Being out there with my team is something I’ve been waiting on since March 19,” Morant said, referring to the day after his injury. “I was finally able to do that. Excited to be out there. Had a lot of fun. Just preparing for this stretch we’re about to go on in the playoffs.”

Brandon Clarke added 20 points for Memphis, making all 10 of his field goal attempts. Ziaire Williams had 19 points, and Desmond Bane had 18. Bane was 6 of 7 on the night, including making all four 3-point attempts. The Grizzlies shot better than 60% through three quarters. They snapped a two-game losing streak.

CJ McCollum led New Orleans with 16 points but was 6 of 17 from the field. Willy Hernangomez added 15 points and 10 rebounds, and Jaxson Hayes had 13 points.

“It was a tough night. Tough night for CJ. Tough night for me. Tough night for our group,” Pelicans coach Willie Green said.

“It just felt like they were more ready than use,” Hayes added. “They came out aggressive. Got up into us and just kind of pressured us the whole game. It was hard to get anything going.”

Trying to secure the ninth seed for the play-in tournament, the Pelicans played without scoring leader Brandon Ingram. He’s missed his second straight game because of hamstring tightness.

Memphis dominated through the middle stages. By the end point of the third quarter, the lead had reached 39, and Memphis was shooting 64% overall and 60% from 3-point range, connecting on 15 of 25 from distance. Memphis scored a franchise-record 55 points in the third quarter, giving the Grizzlies a 119-80 lead heading into the fourth.

Memphis was 20 of 26 shooting in the third, making 7 of 10 from 3-point range and handing out 16 assists in the period alone. Pelicans coach. Green said the third quarter was a bad sign, but more of a continuation of problems for New Orleans throughout the night.

“The whole game we could have been better,” Green said. “The third quarter was by far our worst.”

For Memphis, which did not play well in a loss last Thursday to Denver, the performance was a return to style the Grizzlies played before the two-game losing streak. And with a full complement of starters

“All we need to do is attention to detail, know player personnel and give effort,” Brooks said.