EXPLOSIVE GAME Ja Morant (12) of the Memphis Grizzlies takes a shot during the first half against the Los Angeles Lakers at FedExForum on Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2023, in Memphis, Tennessee. AFP PHOTO
LOS ANGELES: Ja Morant produced a second-half scoring spree as the Memphis Grizzlies exploited the absence of LeBron James to beat the Los Angeles Lakers, 121-109, on Tuesday (Wednesday in Manila).
After being restricted to just six points as the Lakers took a 49-46 lead into the break, Grizzlies star Morant erupted with 28 points in the third quarter to tip the contest decisively in Memphis’ favor.
The Memphis win snapped the Lakers’ three-game winning streak and put another dent in the team’s recent resurgence following the injury to James on Sunday.
James, who is reportedly facing multiple weeks on the sidelines after injuring his right foot in a Lakers victory over Dallas on Sunday, was seen wearing a protective boot on the sidelines on Tuesday as his depleted teammates slipped to defeat.
The Lakers were also without the injured D’Angelo Russell, and the absence of the team’s two most assured ball-handlers was keenly felt, with the Lakers coughing up 26 turnovers for 41 points.
Morant received scoring support from Xavier Tillman with 18 points, while Jaren Jackson Jr. and Desmond Bane added 16 points apiece for the home side.
Morant said he had been determined to produce a big second half after a wayward first-half shooting performance.
“I was locked in,” Morant said. “The shots I missed early in that first half were the shots that I made in that third quarter.
“I told my teammates at half-time I wasn’t going to miss too many more of those. I got it going, and the rest is history.”
Anthony Davis led the Lakers scoring with 28 points while Lonnie Walker IV added 21 off the bench.
Elsewhere on Tuesday, Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 33 points as the Milwaukee Bucks stretched their winning streak to 15 games with a come-from-behind 118-104 victory over the Brooklyn Nets.
The Nets, who are rebuilding after the departures of Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant, sprinted into a 28-13 first-quarter lead and remained in front for the remainder of the half to lead by 10 points at the break.
But a third-quarter scoring blitz from Milwaukee — outscoring Brooklyn by 39-23 — saw the Eastern Conference leaders finally edge clear 91-85 heading into the fourth quarter before closing out the win.
In Houston, Nikola Joki, brought up a century of triple-doubles as the Western Conference leading Denver Nuggets downed the Rockets 133-112.
Nuggets star Joki, the two-time reigning NBA Most Valuable Player, finished with 14 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists.
The Serbian star is only the sixth player in NBA history to collect 100 or more triple-doubles, joining Russell Westbrook (198), Oscar Robertson (181), Magic Johnson (138), Jason Kidd (107) and LeBron James (106).
In Atlanta, Quin Snyder’s reign as the Hawks new coach got off to a losing start as the Washington Wizards rolled to a 119-116 victory.
Snyder was installed as the Atlanta coach on Sunday.
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