Pelicans-Grizzlies to feature rare matchup of Williamson, Morant

Zion Williamson and Ja Morant were the first two players selected in the 2019 NBA Draft. The New Orleans Pelicans took Williamson out of Duke, then the Memphis Grizzlies selected Morant out of Murray State.

The dynamic young stars have played in the same NBA game just four times because of injuries, but both are expected to play when the surging Pelicans visit the slumping Grizzlies on Friday night.

Williamson, who missed a 113-102 home victory against the Grizzlies on Nov. 15, returned from a bruised foot to play in the last two games. He had a season-high 32 points to go with 11 rebounds in a 129-110 victory at San Antonio on Wednesday.

“Zion was a monster from start to finish,” New Orleans coach Willie Green said. “Driving the ball, kicking it to his teammates, taking advantage of mismatches.”

The victory, the Pelicans’ fifth in six games, came two nights after a 45-point thumping of the short-handed Golden State Warriors.

“It’s hard winning in the NBA, especially coming into this building,” Green said in San Antonio. “We have to continue to set the standard of who we want to be and what we want to achieve.”

New Orleans played without starting guard CJ McCollum (non-COVID illness) against San Antonio, but Devonte’ Graham came off the bench to score 21 points, making six 3-pointers, and center Jonas Valanciunas added 22 points and 10 rebounds.

“Our defense has really been clicking,” Williamson said.

Morant, who had 36 points but just 20 after the first quarter in the loss at New Orleans, returned from a one-game absence due to a sprained ankle when the Grizzlies lost to visiting Sacramento 113-109 on Tuesday night.

Morant scored 20 points in the fourth quarter, including a three-point play that pulled Memphis within one point with 5.3 seconds left.

After two free throws by the Kings, Morant had a chance to tie the score when he was fouled while shooting a 3-pointer with 1.7 seconds left. But he missed two of the three free throws, and the Grizzlies lost for the fourth time in five games.

“I missed. Game over,” Morant said. “It builds character. I’ve been there before.

“We got some open looks and missed, and they turned them into points. They turned our turnovers into points. That created a hole, and we had to fight back late in this game,” he added.

Desmond Bane remains sidelined because of a sprained big toe, but Jaren Jackson Jr. made his season debut in the first game against the Pelicans after undergoing offseason foot surgery.

The Pelicans have won all four games in which Williamson and Morant have both played, the last being a 144-113 New Orleans victory in Memphis on Feb. 16, 2021.

In the games in which both have played, Williamson has averaged 26.8 points and six rebounds, and Morant has averaged 17.8 points and 7.0 assists.

In Williamson’s absence in the last meeting, McCollum scored 30 points to lead six Pelicans in double figures, and New Orleans made 18 3-pointers on 38 attempts.

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