NBA: Off-court behaviour by Grizzlies’ Ja Morant dominate the recent headlines
Of all major sports in the USA, the National Football League (NFL) and National Basketball Association (NBA) attract the most negative, off-field/off-court focus, which some have attributed to the fact that most players in both leagues are men of colour — the NFL comprises about 71 per cent and the NBA has about 73 per cent. While that may be a point for debate, the story that broke last Saturday (March 4) regarding Memphis Grizzlies point guard Jamel “Ja” Morant is nothing to scoff at and has consumed the NBA discussions all week.
Following the Grizzlies’ 113-97 road loss to the Denver Nuggets last Friday night, Morant appeared on his social media post in a video that was reported to be from a strip club in Denver. The video showed the 23-year-old brandishing what appears to be a gun, while rapping and dancing to the music in the background. While this issue is bad in itself, it comes on the heels of other off-court allegations against Morant (and his associates) involving guns and other acts of aggression.
The police in Denver are investigating the Grizzlies star and the team has since placed him on suspension, but they have been sliding, resulting in them losing ground in the Western Conference, slipping from No 2 to No 3. This time last year, Morant and the Grizzlies became one of the best stories in the NBA. He was an emerging sensation, while Memphis took a major leap to become one of the top teams in the West, but all that could be derailed if Morant continues on this path.
Most youngsters make stupid decisions at his age, but the stakes are higher for Morant, who has been positioned as a top pitchman for Nike and an endorser for Powerade in his fourth professional season. To date, he still appears to have the support of his team and backers, and with better decision-making, he could still become the face of the NBA someday, but his fiercest opponent right now isn’t the Nuggets, Sacramento Kings, Phoenix Suns or Dallas Mavericks, the Boston Celtics or Milwaukee Bucks. His most feared opponent is himself.
Elsewhere, the Los Angeles Lakers are on a tear, despite the absence of the NBA’s all-time leading scorer, LeBron James. In less than a week, they have progressed from 12th position in the West to ninth, after defeating the Grizzlies 112-103 on Tuesday night, on the back of a resurging Anthony Davis. Not the fragile, injury-prone version the Lakers have had over the past few seasons, but the player who powered the Lakers to a championship in the COVID-19 bubble. His dominance has begun to shine (again), especially in Tuesday’s matchup where he suffered a bloody nose in the first half but played through to register 30 points and 22 rebounds, making him the first Laker since Shaquille O’Neal in 2003-04 to record multiple 30-point, 20-rebound games in a season. LeBron is irreplaceable, but the make-up of the current team shows that making the play-offs without him is achievable.
In the Eastern Conference, the win streak of the Bucks was broken at 16 by the Philadelphia 76ers last Saturday night, in Milwaukee. However, the Bucks soon shook that off and got back to winning ways, taking advantage of a losing slide by the Celtics to increase their lead at the top of the East. And while the Bucks seem to be the most likely to finish atop the Eastern Conference, no team in the NBA is hotter than the New York Knicks right now. They were riding a nine-game winning run until that was derailed on Tuesday night by the Charlotte Hornets, but the streak included some very impressive wins, especially last Sunday night’s double-overtime victory over the Celtics (131-129) in Boston, and two nights earlier in Miami against the Heat, when Julius Randle hit an off-balance three with less than one second on the clock to give the Knicks a 122–120 win.
Randle and Jalen Brunson have led the way for the Knicks all season but been particularly outstanding during the past 10 games. And with Brunson out injured against the Celtics, two role players stepped up in a major way to highlight the depth of their bench – backup point guard Immanuel Quickley put up a career-high 38 points and RJ Barrett had 29.
The Knicks haven’t had a double-digit win streak since 2013 (13 games) and have won at least 10 games in a row just six times in their history. Add in the eight-game winning streak the Knicks had back in December, and that makes this the first season since 1972–73 in which New York has posted multiple eight-game winning streaks.
New York is currently fifth in the East, but have a West Coast swing before returning home on March 18 against the West-leading Nuggets, at the end of which their post-season picture will be clearer. However, after a slow start to the season, the Knicks look like they could create a stir in the play-offs.
This Sunday, the Knicks travel to take on the Lakers in what is expected to be a tough battle but, prior to that, on Saturday, the re-energised Phoenix Suns welcome the upstart Sacramento Kings into Footprint Center for a must-watch encounter. With just about a dozen games left for each team in the regular season and the positioning so tightly packed in both conferences, the jostling is going to get physical and every shift for one team, will result in displacement for another. Catch every minute that you can – “That’s Game.”
NBA CHAMPION 2023
Boston Celtics 3.90
Milwaukee Bucks 4.70
Phoenix Suns 5.00
Denver Nuggets 7.40
Golden State Warriors 12.00
Philadelphia 76ers 13.00
Los Angeles Clippers 16.00
Dallas Mavericks 19.00
Memphis Grizzlies 20.00
Cleveland Cavaliers 29.00
*Only Top 10 odds shown (see website for full list)
Note: Odds are subject to change
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