The Lakers' LeBron James prepares for a rebound that did not happen as Desmond Bane connected on this shot for two of his 17 points. (Photo: Terry Davis/The New Tri-State Defender)

LOS ANGELES – a Memphis’ Ja Morant finished a post-game press conference and then went back onto the Staples Center Court, taking a photo from the foul line where he had missed a game-tying free throw at the end of game the Grizzlies lost by three (121-118) to the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday night.

Packed into the scenario was an unmistakable truth: the Grizzlies’ evolving star guard already is a stellar NBA player with a dogged determination to win and a hold-himself-accountable attitude for winning when his team comes up short on a night that he scores 40 and dishes 10 assists.

Grizzlies head coach Taylor Jenkins. (Photo: Terry Davis)

“He wants to do everything possible to help this team win,” said Memphis head coach Taylor Jenkins. “He missed a free throw, but I am so confident when he steps up to the line. It is going to continue to push him. He is motivated to win. He is going to learn from that and go out there and get better.”

Morant was fouled on a three-point shot with 2.5 seconds left in the game and Memphis trailing by three points (116-113). He made the first two shots before the third clanked off the rim.

“We are not worried about it (the missed free throw) at all,” said Grizzlies starter Desmond Bane. We are going to war with Ja. That is our leader; that is our guy. He is going to be an All-Star and maybe an All-NBA player. He missed a free throw .… I am sure the next time he is going to capitalize on it. He will be fine and bounce back.”

Sandwiched by the Lakers’ Anthony Davis and a help defender, Ja Morant floats through the lane with an eye to pass. (Photo: Terry Davis)

The Grizzlies (2-1) earned fresh respect from head coach Jenkins.

“I am really proud of our team. We got better tonight, despite the loss,” said Jenkins. “The Lakers played great …. They had so many individual contributions. The way they moved the ball made it really hard on us. We dug ourselves a big hole. Our focus wasn’t there. Our edge wasn’t there. They took advantage of that in the first half. Our Grizzlies’ standard showed up in the second half.”

Brandon Clarke makes an aggressive move to the hoop. (Photo: Terry Davis/Special to The New Tri-State Defender)

A night after beating back the Los Angeles Clippers at Staples Center, the Grizzlies faced a hungry and winless Los Angeles Lakers team that notched its first win of the season with the hard-earned victory over Memphis. The Grizzlies got off to a good start offensively, leading 17-7 at one point before falling behind by five (29-25) at the end of the second quarter.

The offense got off the tracks early in the second quarter, with the Grizzlies having only scored 11 points with 7:30 to go in the second frame. Then Morant and Bane stepped up, with each scoring nine points in the remainder of the quarter. At the break, the Grizzlies trailed 62-56.

Morant accented the third quarter with mouth-dropping layups, finishing the quarter with 10 points and 6 assists.

Although only the third game of the season for both teams, it had the intensity of a playoff game. Grizzlies center Steven Adams had his first double-double (14 points, 16 rebounds) for Memphis. Bane continued his outstanding play early in this season with 17 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists. Jaren Jackson Jr. had 12 points and De’Anthony Melton added 13.

Jaren Jackson Jr. looks to maneuver past the Lakers’ Carmelo Anthony. (Photo: Terry Davis/ The New Tri-State Defender)

The Lakers’ Anthony was a problem for the Grizzlies. His 28 points amounted to a game high for the Lakers and a season high for Anthony, who connected on six of eight three-pointers and moved past Moses Malone to claim the ninth spot on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. He outscored the Memphis bench by six points.

Morant’s 40 point, 10-assist performance amounted to his first double-double of the season. He was 5 of 7 from beyond the arc.

“I feel like the stats (about his improved three-point shooting) speak for themselves,” said Morant. “Make or miss, I am going into that shot with 100 percent confidence. If I miss one, I shoot 10 more. I worked on it consistently.”

What does he take from the loss?

“Pretty much just doing the small things, rebounding, getting those 50-50 balls and locked in on our coverages,” said Morant. “Our main focus right now is keeping guys out of the paint.”

With the ball in Ja Morant’s hands, Russell Westbrook and the Lakers had their hands full most of the evening. (Photo: Terry Davis)

It was the first time the Grizzlies had played back-to-back games in the young season.

“They punched us in the mouth, but we responded well,” said Banes. “A couple of balls go a different direction and we wound up losing the game. I am so proud of our group. …

“We are a close niche group. This is the closest team that I have ever been on. Last year, I thought our team was pretty close, but we are even closer this year. If we can stay on the same page for 82 games, I like our chances.”

Morant was asked if the Grizzlies made a statement with their down-to-the-wire performance.

“I feel like we have been making statements since I got drafted here and receiving the same thing, no respect,” said Morant. “Our focus is to go out and try to win each and every game instead of worrying about whether we are respected or not.”

So has the team gained some respect yet?

“Honestly, no,” said Morant. “We will be alright though.”

NEXT:

The Grizzlies will have a couple of days off before they face the Portland Trailblazers on Wednesday (Oct. 27) in Portland. The Grizzlies return to the FedExForum on Saturday (Oct. 30) to face the Miami Heat at 7 p.m.


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