Two teams eliminated from the 2022 playoffs by the Golden State Warriors and primed for a rematch in April hope to take early steps in that direction when the Memphis Grizzlies visit the Dallas Mavericks on Saturday night.
The Grizzlies and Mavericks were seeded second and fourth, respectively, in the Western Conference playoffs a year ago, separated by just four games in the standings, before winning first-round matchups.
That pitted the Grizzlies against the third-seeded Warriors, and Mavericks against the top-seeded Phoenix Suns, with each a series win away from going head-to-head in the Western Conference finals.
The Mavericks made it by shocking the Suns in Game 7 on the road, but the Grizzlies fell short 4-2 against the Warriors, falling victim to a key injury to star Ja Morant.
Morant demonstrated he is fully recovered from his knee injury with a 34-point, nine-assist season debut in a 115-112 home overtime win over the New York Knicks on Wednesday. Morant played 38 minutes.
The young star was even better on Friday in the Grizzlies' 129-122 road win over the Houston Rockets, erupting for 49 points, the second-highest total of his career. He had 52 in a home win over the San Antonio Spurs in February.
The Grizzlies don't get a rematch with the Warriors until Christmas Day, but it's clear Morant already is looking past quality opponents such as the Mavericks and to the first of four regular-season meetings with the champs.
"Everybody in the league is pretty much after Golden State. They've got a target on their back," he said. "For us, they're in the same conference as us, and, obviously, we got to go through them to get to a championship. That's what we're trying to do."
The Mavericks won three of four from the Grizzlies last season despite falling in the first meeting in Dallas.
Morant and Luka Doncic went head-to-head twice last season, with Doncic outscoring his rival 27-19 and 37-35 in a pair of Dallas wins.
All told, the Mavericks are 5-1 against the Grizzlies all-time in games in which both Doncic and Morant played.
With the Grizzlies having been in Houston on Friday and Morant having logged 31 minutes, Doncic will enter this year's first meeting better rested. The Mavericks haven't played since opening with a 107-105 loss at Phoenix on Wednesday.
Doncic put up 35 points, nine rebounds and six assists in the defeat, but much of the talk after the game was about the performance of big man Christian Wood in his Mavericks debut. The former Rocket came off the bench to contribute 25 points and eight rebounds in 24 minutes.
It took Wood very little time to appreciate the positives of being Doncic's teammate.
"Luka trusted me," Wood said. "If you have to double him, you have to deal with me in the short roll, and then you've got a 40 percent (3-point) shooter on the weak side. It's hard to guard."
Playing for the Rockets, Wood enjoyed individual success last season against the Grizzlies, recording 22-point, 11-rebound and 28-point, 13-rebound double-doubles.
--Field Level Media