Bulked-up Grizzlies rookie Ja Morant ready to take off after hiatus

Memphis Grizzlies point guard Ja Morant, the Rookie of the Year front-runner, feels like he's ready to take off after making physical improvements during the NBA's hiatus.

Morant, who is listed at 6-foot-3, 175 pounds, said he added 12 pounds during the three-plus-month break. He also believes his right knee, which was repaired in a minor arthroscopic surgery last June, is stronger now than it has been throughout a rookie campaign highlighted by spectacular dunks.

"My knee's feeling way better -- no pain," Morant said during a virtual media availability Thursday. "I actually feel like I'm Ieaving the floor easier and jumping higher. I've just been taking this time to focus on my body, make sure everything's feeling good, so when I go out and play, I'll be fine."

Morant, who has averaged 17.6 points and 6.9 assists per game for the surprising Grizzlies, said adding strength has always been a top priority in his development. He has seen the benefits during regular pickup games he played in the Memphis area during the coronavirus hiatus.

"I'm stronger, can absorb contact and those things," Morant said. "Able to use my body more, get through different screens. That's what I was looking to build going to Orlando, to be able to do the things that I've been doing before but better."

Morant, who will miss his daughter's first birthday due to competing in the NBA bubble in Florida, welcomes speculation he has heard that the Grizzlies will lose their grasp of the Western Conference's final playoff spots.

Memphis (32-33), which was expected to endure a rebuilding season with its young roster, has a 3½-game lead over the Portland Trail Blazers, New Orleans Pelicans and Sacramento Kings in the race for eighth place. If the ninth-place team is within four games after the eight-game seeding portion of the schedule, there will be play-in matchups. In that case, the ninth-place team would have to beat the eighth-place team in two straight games to claim the final playoff seed.

"We've been motivated by the doubters all season long," Morant said. "We'll just go out and continue to play our game; don't live and die by the game. Just play together and try to come out with the win. We've been doing that. We're in the 8 position right now, so going into Orlando, it's just more motivation, fuel to our fire."