This week was supposed to be Maverick fans’ chance to size up this season’s Rookie of the Year race for themselves.
It may not happen.
The New Orleans Pelicans, with No. 1 overall pick Zion Williamson, visit American Airlines Center Wednesday night in a late (8:30 p.m.) game televised on both FSSW and ESPN.
The Memphis Grizzlies, with No. 2 pick and perhaps ROY favorite Ja Morant leading them, visit AAC on Friday.
However, it’s anybody’s guess whether both players will play in those games and match up against reigning rookie of the year and Mavericks’ All-Star Luka Doncic.
The Pelicans had a home game Tuesday night against Minnesota. Williamson, the 6-foot-6, 285-pound monster who has averaged 24.1 points and 6.8 rebounds since returning from a right knee injury that cost him the first 44 games of the season, played in that game, scoring 25 points in 33 minutes.
He has not played in back-to-back games for the Pelicans because they haven’t had any since he returned on Jan. 22.
However, the team has been steadfast in taking the correct approach and saying that they will not take any chances when it comes to overplaying Williamson. Rather, they have been gradually increasing his workload.
The only time he’s come close to playing on consecutive nights was when the Pelicans had a game on the Thursday before the All-Star break, then he played in the Rising Stars Game the following night. Obviously, the stress level in that game is far below a regular-season game, especially one in the middle of a playoff chase.
It’s unknown whether Williamson will play on the second night of back-to-back games, although with the game on national television, perhaps that could sway things.
If he doesn’t, it will rob Maverick fans of a chance to see Williamson as a rookie. He missed the first three meetings, including the Dec. 7 visit to AAC, while recovering from surgery to fix the torn meniscus in his right knee.
Williamson has been a terror since making his debut in January. And the Pelicans have gone 9-7 (before Tuesday) since his return, although Williamson missed one of the wins (at Indiana) with a left ankle issue.
He is viewed as one of the next-generation superstars of the NBA – which would put him on the same plateau as Doncic.
And, by the way, the Pelicans have a better record since Williamson began playing than the Mavericks, who are 10-10 in that time.
Meanwhile, Morant has not been held out of any games for load management since before Christmas. However, the Grizzlies will be playing their fifth game in a stretch when they play six games in nine days. After Friday’s game in Dallas, they return home for a back-to-back against Atlanta.
The Grizzlies are trying to hang on to the final playoff spot, so strategizing for their best chance to win games no doubt is paramount heading down the stretch.
Morant was the clear rookie of the year favorite until Williamson’s return. The 6-3 point guard has averaged 17.6 points and 7 assists per game while surprisingly leading the Grizz to the No. 8 playoff seed.
Morant had 21 points in the Grizzlies win last month at AAC, but sat out the Mavericks’ win in Memphis in November.
The teams meet one more time in Memphis on April 3.