The New Orleans Pelicans and the Memphis Grizzlies, two of the top three teams in the Western Conference, are led by the top two picks in the 2019 NBA Draft.
The Pelicans’ Zion Williamson and the Grizzlies’ Ja Morant will face each other in their final game of 2022 on Saturday night in Memphis, but they figure to be competing with each other throughout the 2023 portion of the season, too.
New Orleans beat the visiting Philadelphia 76ers 127-116 on Friday night to win its fifth game in a row and stay tied with the Denver Nuggets atop the West.
Williamson, the top pick in 2019, had 36 points after scoring a career-high 43 in a win against the Minnesota Timberwolves two nights earlier. His relentlessness in driving to the basket against Philadelphia enabled him to hit 13 of 19 field-goal attempts and to make frequent trips to the foul line, where he went 10-for-16.
“I love to see it,” New Orleans coach Willie Green said. “It’s what makes Z special. Physically, he can take all the bumps, all the hits and he just keeps coming at you. I wouldn’t want to guard him.”
Williamson is the Pelicans’ leading scorer on the season, but he was only their No. 2 scorer against the 76ers. CJ McCollum poured in a season-high 42 points and set a franchise record by making a career-high 11 3-pointers.
“None of the threes looked forced,” Williamson said. “That’s what made it look beautiful. They were all in rhythm and within the offense.”
Speaking of career highs, Morant, the No. 2 pick in the 2019 draft, had a career-best 17 assists and scored 19 points as the Grizzlies beat the host Toronto Raptors 119-106 on Thursday night.
“It’s super impressive,” Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins said of Morant’s assists. “It just sets a tone for us. His unselfishness, we talk about that all the time.”
The teamwork proved contagious as Memphis finished with a season-high 37 assists.
“He’s able to get three, four guys on him and find us for (3-pointers), find us for dumpoffs,” said Dillon Brooks, who led the Grizzlies with 25 points. “He’s a one-in-a-generation talent.”
Memphis’ Desmond Bane added 16 points before fouling out, and Steven Adams had 14 points and 17 rebounds. The Grizzlies outscored Toronto 70-50 in the paint.
Memphis had lost four of its previous five games and had made fewer than 10 3-pointers in each of the past four games before Thursday. The Grizzlies sank 13 3-pointers against the Raptors as seven players made at least one.
“If we’re clicking like this, a lot of teams can’t beat us,” Brooks said.
Memphis and New Orleans have split their first two meetings this season, with the home team winning each time. The Pelicans prevailed 113-102 on Nov. 15, and the Grizzlies won 132-111 on Nov. 25.
The second meeting featured the most points allowed by the Pelicans in a regulation game this season and matched their largest margin of defeat. It also marked the Grizzlies’ first win in the five meetings in which Williamson and Morant have both played.
The teams conclude the season series April 5 in New Orleans.
–Field Level Media