The Whiteboard: Jaren Jackson Jr. is stepping up for the Grizzlies without Ja Morant

Memphis Grizzlies, The Whiteboard

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If you are the kind of perverse sports fan who enjoys extreme blowouts, Thursday night must have been an absolute delight. The Grizzlies beat the Thunder 152-79 (a 73-point margin), the most lopsided win in NBA history.

A win that big is remarkable under any circumstances but it was even more meaningful for the Grizzlies when you consider they did it without Ja Morant, who has missed the last three games with a knee sprain.

Memphis has won all three games since Morant went down, admittedly against the Kings, Raptors and Thunder, by a combined 111 points. Everyone has stepped up but the Grizzlies have also been treated to a resurgence from Jaren Jackson Jr., highlighted by his 27 points on 11 shots in 20 minutes against thee Thunder.

Jaren Jackson Jr. has stepped up in a huge way for the Memphis Grizzlies

Tyus Jones has done an admirable job filling in for Morant at point guard, but his mistake-free brand of efficiency offers a very different look from Morant’s explosive creation ability. In that void, Jaren Jackson Jr. has helped shoulder some of the load and played his best multi-game stretch since the 2019-20 season, before suffering the torn meniscus that essentially wiped away his 2020-21 season.

Over the three games since Morant went down, Jackson Jr. has averaged 23.0 points, 6.0 rebounds and 3.0 blocks per game, shooting 61.1 percent from beyond the arc and 60.5 percent overall. All but one of his 3-point attempts during this stretch have been of the catch-and-shoot variety but half his 2-point baskets have been unassisted, up from 31.6 percent over the Grizzlies’ first 19 games.

He’s been very aggressive attacking the basket, countering late closeouts or just looking for opportunities to drive on touches that might have just been contested jumpers earlier in the season.

Hot 3-point shooting has been the driving factor for these three games, and players like Jones, De’Anthony Melton and Dillon Brooks have been filling much more of the self-creation void left by Morant. But Jackson is rising to the challenge in his role and him performing at a higher level is making things easier on everyone else on the roster.

This is a crucial season for Jackson Jr. in re-establishing his trajectory as a future star and rebuilding his on-court synergy with Ja Morant. They were making progress earlier in the season but perhaps an opportunity to shine and build confidence without Morant will speed up the process when he actually returns.

How far can the Phoenix Suns push their win streak?

The Suns stretched their win streak to 18 games, knocking off the Pistons on Thursday night with a rematch against the Warriors looming for Friday night. This may be their biggest challenge of the streak thus far, coming on the road and on the second night of a back-to-back. The Warriors are favored tonight and 538’s NBA projection model gives the Suns just a 32 percent chance of winning.

But if they can beat the Warriors again, their win streak really could move into historic territory. The next game on their schedule is Monday night, at home, against the Spurs, a game they would be overwhelming favorites in. That could potentially stretch their streak to 20 games, tying them for the fifth-longest in NBA history.

From there, they’d need another eight wins to tie the Warriors (who won 28 in a row across the end of the 2014-15 season and into the 2015-16 season) for the second-longest win streak ever. If they beat the Warriors and Spurs, the eight games on their schedule they’d need to win to get there would be: Celtics (home), Clippers (away), Blazers (away), Wizards (home), Hornets (home), Lakers (away), Thunder (home) and … home against the Warriors on Christmas Day.

That matchup is likely to be one of the most important games of the entire regular season but if the Suns keep winning they could be playing for more than just the No. 1 seed at that point.

#OtherContent

While the Suns and Warriors have taken the NBA by storm, the Utah Jazz have quietly improved upon last year’s dominant play with the league’s best offense. Ben Ladner dives into their offensive brilliance and the emergence of Larry Nance Jr. for the Portland Trail Blazers in this week’s installment of The Long Two.

The Ringer’s Dan Devine is handing out awards for the first quarter of the NBA season. Big eyes emoji for Tyler Herro staying hot.

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