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Grizzlies’ Ja Morant scores 17 points off the bench in return from suspension

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Memphis Grizzlies star Ja Morant returned to the court Wednesday night and scored 17 points off the bench as the team defeated the Houston Rockets 130-125 and clinched a Southwest Division title.

Morant was greeted with cheers from the Memphis crowd when he checked into the game. He also stunned fans when he threw down a dunk over Kenyon Martin Jr. He played 24 minutes and could not put his emotions into words when he talked to reporters.

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Memphis Grizzlies guard Ja Morant, #12, handles the ball against Houston Rockets guard Kevin Porter Jr., #3, in the second half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, March 22, 2023, in Memphis, Tennessee.

Memphis Grizzlies guard Ja Morant, #12, handles the ball against Houston Rockets guard Kevin Porter Jr., #3, in the second half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, March 22, 2023, in Memphis, Tennessee. (AP Photo/Brandon Dill)

“I can’t really put it into words. I’m kind of numb right now,” he said. “Thankful to everybody.”

The two-time All-Star served an eight-game suspension and missed nine games in total after he was seen on a video brandishing a gun in a Denver strip club. He checked into a Florida facility to deal with stress management afterward and made his return to the bench on Monday night.

NBA STAR JA MORANT INSISTS HE ‘NEVER HAD AN ALCOHOL PROBLEM,’ SOUGHT HELP FOR STRESS MANAGEMENT

Memphis Grizzlies guards Ja Morant, #12, and John Konchar, #46, reach for a rebound in the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Houston Rockets Wednesday, March 22, 2023, in Memphis, Tennessee.

Memphis Grizzlies guards Ja Morant, #12, and John Konchar, #46, reach for a rebound in the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Houston Rockets Wednesday, March 22, 2023, in Memphis, Tennessee. (AP Photo/Brandon Dill)

“Obviously, I’m thankful and grateful for everybody who has been supporting me during this time,” the two-time All-Star said of the fan reception. “It definitely helped me a lot. Definitely made me feel a little better. Eased everything that’s been going on. Felt good to be back. Super excited and glad we were able to get the win.”

Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins said the decision to bring Morant off the bench was collaborative to make sure Morant was not going to hurt himself after missing some time.

“We want to be really smart, not just over the first couple of game, but the first week to two,” Jenkins said. “We want to be smart with that layoff that we’re not doing anything to jeopardize his health as well.”

Memphis Grizzlies guard Ja Morant, #12, shoots the ball in the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Houston Rockets Wednesday, March 22, 2023, in Memphis, Tennessee.

Memphis Grizzlies guard Ja Morant, #12, shoots the ball in the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Houston Rockets Wednesday, March 22, 2023, in Memphis, Tennessee. (AP Photo/Brandon Dill)

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Memphis is certain to have Morant in the playoffs.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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