MEMPHIS, TENNESSEE – Brandon Jennings feels a sense of urgency in trying to prove he belongs back in the NBA after signing a 10-day contract with the Milwaukee Bucks.
Jennings, who joined the team on Sunday, took a huge step in that direction Monday night, finishing with 16 points, 12 assists and eight rebounds as the Bucks sent Memphis to its 18th consecutive loss with a 121-103 victory.
“We wanted more,” interim Bucks coach Joe Prunty said with a twinkle in his eye. “He was very good. Obviously, the 12 assists were great. Overall, a really positive night from him. A lot of things that were really good.”
Khris Middleton scored 24 points and Giannis Antetokounmpo added 20 for the Bucks, while Eric Bledsoe finished with 14 points, including a trio of baskets to stem a fourth-quarter Memphis rally. But it was Jennings, who last week was playing with the Bucks’ G League team after playing in China earlier this year, who was the talk of the locker room.
For Jennings, there was some nervousness in returning to the NBA. He acknowledged he has finally recovered from what some thought was a career-ending left Achilles tendon injury suffered in 2015 when he was with the Detroit Pistons.
“I felt like it was my first rookie game again,” said Jennings, who was the Bucks’ first-round draft pick in 2009. “Just to put on that jersey was a blessing, and I was just grateful.”
Marc Gasol led the Grizzlies with 17 points, while Jarell Martin, Dillon Brooks and Ben McLemore scored 16 apiece.
Jennings provided an early spark in the second quarter, scoring 11 points and handing out five assists in the period, helping the Bucks take a 64-50 lead into the break. The advantage would stretch to 19 for Milwaukee in the third.
Although Memphis was able to pull within 97-91 near the midway point of the fourth, Bledsoe scored six of the Bucks’ next eight points, then added an assist to Antetokounmpo, running the lead back to 12 with 4:09 left. That was enough of a buffer for the Bucks to claim their second straight win.
“We keep digging ourselves in a hole,” Brooks said. “We’re going to make runs, and we keep making runs, 7-0 run, 8-0 run, 9-0 run, and they make a 5-0 run we we’re back down 15. We can’t create these holds and try to fill them up because it’s too late.”
Rockets 109, Spurs 93
In Houston, James Harden scored 16 of his 28 points in the third quarter to allow the Rockets to build a huge lead and sail to an easy victory over San Antonio.
The NBA’s leading scorer took a little while to get going a night after sitting out against Dallas with a sore left knee and had just 12 points at halftime.
The Spurs, who were without leading scorer LaMarcus Aldridge, got 14 points each from Bryn Forbes and Derrick White. They lost for the fifth time in six games as they fight for a playoff spot.
Trail Blazers 115, Heat 99
In Portland, Damian Lillard had 32 points and 10 assists, and the Trail Blazers beat Miami for their 10th straight victory.
Jusuf Nurkic added 27 points and 16 rebounds for Portland, which has the longest current winning streak in the NBA and a two-game lead over Oklahoma City for the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference.
Goran Dragic scored 23 points for the Heat, who were without two key players in starting center Hassan Whiteside and sixth man Dwyane Wade.
Thunder 106, Kings 101
In Oklahoma City, Russell Westbrook scored 17 points and notched his 20th triple-double of the season to help the Thunder beat Sacramento.
Westbrook had 10 rebounds and 11 assists in the 99th triple-double of his career.
Bogdan Bogdanovic scored 19 points for the Kings in the loss.