Grizzlies, Hawks ready to finally meet in regular season

MEMPHIS, TN – DECEMBER 19: Jonas Valanciunas #17 of the Memphis Grizzlies fights for position against De’Andre Hunter #12 of the Atlanta Hawks during a preseason game on December 19, 2020 at FedExForum 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. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2020 NBAE (Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images)

The Atlanta Hawks and Memphis Grizzlies saw a lot of each other during the preseason.

Now they meet Saturday in Memphis in a game that counts.

Both teams opened the season Wednesday. The Hawks hammered the Chicago Bulls 124-104 on the road, while the Grizzlies were whipped 131-119 at home by the San Antonio Spurs.

The teams split two games during the preseason with the Grizzlies winning the first game 128-106, but the Hawks winning the return match 117-116.

The Grizzlies easily defeated the Hawks in both meetings last year and have won the last three head-to-head contests at home. Last season, Memphis won by 39 in Atlanta to set a franchise record for its largest road victory. Five days later the Grizzlies won by 17 in Memphis.

In the season-opener Wednesday, the Grizzlies wasted a career-high 44 points from Ja Morant, one shy of matching the franchise record. Last year’s NBA Rookie of the Year scored 34 points in the second half, but was disappointed with the loss.

“I’m not happy at all,” said Morant, who also had nine assists in the opener. “We came up short. So, learning from this game and prepare for the next.”

Morant totaled 37 points and 11 assists in two games against Atlanta last season.

Jonas Valanciunas scored 15 points and had 13 rebounds in the opener. He has been a matchup problem for the Hawks for years and last season had 27 points and 17 rebounds in their second meeting. He averages 12.8 points and 9.2 rebounds in 24 career games against Atlanta.

“We have this group we think is genuinely special,” Memphis GM Zach Kleiman said. “It’s on me, it’s on us to continue to grow this group, to continue to build.”

Atlanta had a great shooting night in the opener, scored 42 points in the first quarter, 41 in the second quarter and led 83-59 at halftime. The Hawks shot 53.8 percent from the floor and had seven players in double figures.

Trae Young scored 37 with seven assists and six rebounds in 26 minutes. Young was 10-for-12 from the field and 5-for-6 on 3-pointers.

“Just being able to go out there and put on a show in the first game was really good,” Young said. “Not every night obviously is going to be like this, but it’s really good to have an opening game like this.”

Free-agent signees Bogdan Bogdanovic (15 points, seven rebounds) and Danilo Gallinari (13 points) had successful Atlanta debuts. Holdovers Cam Reddish (15 points) and John Collins (14 points) were equally dependable.

“All of our guys played well,” Atlanta coach Lloyd Pierce said.

Atlanta held out Kris Dunn (right knee), Clint Capela (sore left Achilles), Rajon Rondo (COVID-19 protocols), Tony Snell (foot) and rookie Onyeka Okongwu (foot).

Memphis was without Killian Tillie (hamstring), Xavier Tillman (knee) and Jontay Porter (knee), but all are day-to-day. Jaren Jackson Jr. (left knee meniscus surgery) and Justise Winslow (left hip displacement) are out.

–Field Level Media

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