The Memphis Grizzlies are looking for a big lift down the stretch from Jaren Jackson Jr.
Jackson made his season debut earlier this week and is slated to play again Friday when Memphis visits the Portland Trail Blazers in the first of a back-to-back between the two teams.
Jackson missed the first 56 games of the season due to August surgery to repair meniscus damage in his left knee.
The Grizzlies (29-28) have stayed afloat without him, but their chances of a strong finishing kick and a run in the playoffs increase with the 21-year-old big man back on the court.
Jackson certainly will need time to find his stride, but his production was solid Wednesday when he had 15 points, eight rebounds and four blocked shots in just 18 minutes during a 117-105 road loss against the Los Angeles Clippers.
“When I checked in, I couldn’t help but laugh a little bit,” said Jackson, who entered off the bench about five minutes into the affair. “Just being out there in general was the win for me. While I was out there, I was just having fun.”
Jackson averaged 17.4 points, 4.6 rebounds and 1.6 blocked shots last season. The 6-foot-11 Jackson was the fourth overall selection in the 2018 NBA Draft and is one of the franchise’s building blocks, alongside second-year point guard Ja Morant.
Morant, of course, was thrilled to see Jackson running up and down the floor.
“It’s a good sign,” Morant said of Jackson. “We are all happy for him. We know how hard he has been working to get back. I know he was very excited. Everybody can see I was excited as well.”
Morant scored 22 points as Memphis lost its second straight game to fall to 2-2 on a seven-game road trip.
The teams are meeting for the first time this season — the second game is Sunday — at a point in which Portland badly needs to reverse its fortunes.
The Trail Blazers (32-26) lost each of their last two games — both at home — by one point and have dropped three straight overall and eight of their past 11.
On Tuesday, Portland saw Los Angeles’ Paul George score the final six points, including two late three throws, as the Clippers overcame a five-point deficit with 63 seconds to go to post a 113-112 victory.
Versus Denver one night later, the Trail Blazers had a chance for the last-second heroics, but Norman Powell missed a floater as time expired in a 106-105 loss.
“We competed throughout the game and we put ourselves in position to win against a good team,” Portland coach Terry Stotts said afterward. “It’s very disappointing to lose this game, but I think we’re playing better basketball.”
Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard was back after missing three games with a hamstring injury.
Lillard scored 22 points but was just 9-of-23 shooting, including 2-of-10 from 3-point range. He did raise his career 3-pointer total to 1,990 to move into 10th place in NBA history, passing Jason Kidd (1,988).
Not surprisingly, Lillard accepted partial blame for the setback.
“We didn’t make the shots down the stretch that we needed to,” Lillard said. “I know I had some looks that felt good coming off my hand that didn’t go in. We just didn’t make the shots.”
–Field Level Media