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Warriors, Grizzlies lead 5 dangerous backcourts in the NBA

Ja Morant powers Memphis onto the list, while Klay Thompson's return recharges Golden State.

Michael C. Wright

Michael C. Wright

Ja Morant and Memphis will face off against Stephen Curry and Golden State on Tuesday night.

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We caught eye-popping plays from Ja Morant on Sunday, while Klay Thompson rose high the same night in his return after more than two years off the floor.

Those two each represent one-half of two of the league’s most dynamic backcourts, which clash Tuesday night on NBA TV (7 ET) with the Memphis Grizzlies hosting the Golden State Warriors at FedExForum.

“Memphis is playing amazing,” Warriors guard Stephen Curry said.

That’s primarily because of stellar play from Morant and backcourt mate Desmond Bane, a duo that has combined to average 50.7 points during the Grizzlies’ league-best nine-game winning streak on 51.6% from the field and 48.9% from deep.

So, while Bane said that “we should be debating whether [Morant is] the best point guard in the league,” let’s not discount the strides made by the second-year player taken 30th overall in the 2020 NBA Draft. Having missed only one game this season, Bane is averaging 17.7 points, 4.5 rebounds and 2.4 assists, connecting on 47.4% from the floor and 42.8% from deep in an increased role.

Throughout Memphis’ winning streak, Bane has knocked down 47.8% from long range, while Morant has hit 50% from distance during that span as the Grizzlies ranked No. 4 offensively and third defensively. This stellar play is part of the reason colleague John Schuhmann lists them at No. 2 in his latest Power Rankings, just behind the top-ranked Warriors.

Memphis now sits just a half-game behind the Utah Jazz for third in the Western Conference standings but will be missing second-leading scorer Dillon Brooks (18.4 points per game) against the Warriors after suffering a sprained left ankle Saturday in a win over the LA Clippers.

Golden State, meanwhile, enters this budding rivalry matchup fresh off its worst stretch of offense this season with a four-game road trip on tap, starting Tuesday against the Grizzlies, followed by games at Milwaukee, Chicago and Minnesota. The clash with Memphis represents the third matchup between these teams. The Grizzlies defeated Golden State in overtime during the second week of the season, but the Warriors exacted revenge two days before Christmas, as Curry lit up Memphis for 46 points in a 113-104 win.

And who can forget this overtime classic in the State Farm Play-In Tournament, which propelled Memphis to its first postseason berth since 2017?

While Golden State isn’t rolling the way the Grizzlies are, it heads into Tuesday tied with Phoenix for the league’s best record (30-9) with Thompson back in the fold.

Thompson hasn’t suited up against Memphis since the 2019 regular-season finale.

“We have championship aspirations. How that looks, we’ve got to figure that out,” Curry said. “With Klay back, it’s one step towards becoming whole, a huge step, and then [James] Wise[man] eventually down the road. Then, we kind of go from there. You’ve got to one milestone for Klay. That’s just for him to get back on the floor, playing basketball and for the most part being there every night. Then, we keep building. We have [43] games to figure out who we are one through 15, 17, and figure what our rotations are looking like, what our chemistry is gonna be like. I like that we’re off to a good start on that.”


In no particular order, here’s a look at five of the NBA’s most dangerous backcourts:


Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson | Golden State Warriors

Klay Thompson returned to the floor on Sunday for the first time in 941 days.

We’ve seen enough of these two through three championships to understand their worth, but the verdict remains somewhat out now due to Thompson’s long absence coming off two major injuries. Thompson’s season debut on Sunday provided a hint of evidence that he’s truly back as the sharpshooter we all know. Thompson scored 17 points in his return, hitting a rust-induced 7-for-18 from the field and 3-for-8 from deep in nearly 20 minutes. As the Warriors ramp up Thompson’s minutes, how he performs defensively is something worth watching. Prior to the injuries, Thompson was one of Golden State’s best defenders.


Ja Morant and Desmond Bane | Memphis Grizzlies

Ja Morant and Desmond Bane have led the way for Memphis this season.

Forget All-Star debates, Bane says Morant deserves consideration for the title of best in the league at the point guard position. He’s not wrong. Morant, meanwhile, thinks Bane should be in the running for Kia NBA Most Improved Player award. With these two, the support goes beyond pressers and Twitter. They’re absolutely getting it done on the floor. The duo has been lethal during Memphis’ nine-game winning streak and could be one of the league’s most scariest duos for years to come.


Chris Paul and Devin Booker | Phoenix Suns

Chris Paul and Devin Booker are looking to make a return trip to The Finals this postseason.

This duo just saw a three-game winning streak snapped by the Miami Heat after Phoenix surrendered a season-high 71 points in the first half of a 123-120 loss with them combining to shoot 8-for-24 from the field and committing nine turnovers. Call the performance an anomaly for these two, which embark on a five-game road trip starting Tuesday at Toronto, followed by matchups at Indiana, Detroit, San Antonio, and Dallas. Paul, 36, is an 11-time NBA All-Star, and Booker, 25, just might be on the way to his third All-Star appearance.


Mike Conley and Donovan Mitchell | Utah Jazz

Mike Conley and Donovan Mitchell are powering Utah’s dominant offense this season.

Conley, 34, is almost nine years older than Mitchell, 25. The age difference can be seen in style of play. Conley is smooth and controlled, committing a total of three turnovers in his last three appearances, while Mitchell routinely showcases supreme athleticism accompanied by the mishaps associated with youth (eight turnovers in his last three appearances). The postseason is where you can expect these two to shine considering they’ve played in a combined 100 playoff games. But it’s also worth noting that Conley and Donovan missed a combined six games during the 2021 postseason.


Lonzo Ball and Zach LaVine | Chicago Bulls

Lonzo Ball and Zach LaVine have helped guide the Bulls to the top of the East standings.

It’s nice to see this duo getting some recognition in its first season together in Chicago, as the Bulls ran off a nine-game winning streak before falling Sunday at Dallas. Ball had been the only Bull to not miss a game this season before entering Health and Safety Protocols last month, causing a five-game absence. Ball is a solid and improving two-way guard, while LaVine – in the midst of what should be his second-straight All-Star season – is coming off a rare off night, shooting a season-low tying 33% in Sunday’s loss to the Mavericks.


Honorable mention

James Harden and Kyrie Irving, Brooklyn Nets: Harden and Irving make honorable mention here because they’re just a part-time duo at this point, with the latter owning all the power to make it full-time. Irving can’t play at home because of New York City’s vaccination mandate, but he should be available for six more road games this month. Irving debuted on Jan. 5 at Indiana, scoring 22 points to help the Nets rally for a 129-121 win. But Irving and Harden haven’t touched the floor together since then because the latter missed his first game since Dec. 18 on Monday at Portland due to a sore knee. The Nets are 3-2 this season without Harden in the lineup.

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Michael C. Wright is a senior writer for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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