It’s a point guard battle as Grizzlies welcome Kings

Dec 30, 2023, 4:06 PM | Updated: 9:40 pm

Ja Morant #12 of the Memphis Grizzlies handles the ball during the game against the Sacramento King...

MEMPHIS, TENNESSEE - JANUARY 01: Ja Morant #12 of the Memphis Grizzlies handles the ball during the game against the Sacramento Kings at FedExForum on January 01, 2023 in Memphis, Tennessee. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Justin Ford/Getty Images)

(Photo by Justin Ford/Getty Images)

Point guard stars De’Aaron Fox and Ja Morant go head-to-head for the first time in almost exactly a year when the Sacramento Kings visit the Memphis Grizzlies on Sunday night.

In the opener of a three-game season series between the Western Conference playoff hopefuls, the Kings and Grizzlies meet for the first time since last Jan. 23, when Sacramento took advantage of Morant’s absence to thump the visitors 133-100.

Morant sat out that game with a sore left ankle, after having been the driving force 22 days earlier – on New Year’s Day – with 35 points in a 118-108 home victory over the Kings.

Fox went for 19 points in the loss, the third consecutive time he was outscored by Morant when both played.

Fox got the better of Morant in each of the first five career duels with the Memphis standout.

Sacramento enters the contest on the heels of a 117-110 win at Atlanta on Friday, with Fox (31 points, eight assists, four steals) and Domantas Sabonis (25 points, 10 rebounds, seven assists) leading the way.

The Kings had opened a three-game trip three days earlier with a 130-113 loss at Portland despite Fox going for 43 and Sabonis 34.

Even with the win over the Hawks, which required a rally from an 18-point halftime deficit, Sacramento coach Mike Brown wouldn’t commit to continuing with Harrison Barnes, benched for the fourth quarter at Atlanta, or Kevin Huerter, who injured his left hand in the win, in the starting lineup for the trip finale.

“Everybody gets evaluated all the time,” Brown said. “Whether it’s for starter’s minutes or significant minutes off the bench or no minutes at all, you’re constantly looking at that throughout the course of the year.

“Sometimes you make changes here, you make changes there. When you do, you roll with it for a little bit to see if it makes sense. And then if it doesn’t, you make another change. I believe in the guys that we have, but it’s my job also at the end of the day to make a change if I feel it necessary, for sure.”

The Grizzlies have responded well to a lineup change of their own, with Morant having been immediately reinserted among the starters upon his return from a 25-game suspension.

Memphis, just 6-19 after 25 games, has gone 4-2 since Morant’s return. One of the two losses occurred Thursday when Morant sat out at Denver.

Morant has averaged 26.8 points in his five games. But equally important, new sidekick Marcus Smart noted, have been his 8.8 assists per game.

“He allows me to be me and focus more on the defensive end,” Smart said. “On offense, he just makes it easier for us. We just got to be ready to knock down the shots.”

Smart and Jaren Jackson Jr. had 22 points apiece and Desmond Bane 18 in Memphis’ most recent action, a 117-106 road loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on Friday.

Bane has averaged 26.2 points, Jackson 20.0 and Smart 17.3 since Morant’s return. The Grizzlies have scored 105 or more points in all six of those games, after having been held to 104 or fewer 11 times in their first 25 contests.

Upcoming schedule for the Sacramento Kings

  • Sunday, December 31st – Sacramento Kings @ Memphis Grizzlies – 5 p.m. PST
  • Tuesday, January 2nd – Sacramento Kings vs. Charlotte Hornets – 7 p.m. PST
  • Wednesday, January 3rd – Sacramento Kings vs. Orlando Magic – 7 p.m. PST
  • Friday, January 5th – Sacramento Kings vs. Toronto Raptors – 7 p.m. PST
  • Sunday, January 7th – Sacramento Kings vs. New Orleans Pelicans – 3 p.m. PST

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