LeBron James believes the sky is the limit for "super special" rookie Ja Morant, who helped the Memphis Grizzlies defeat the Los Angeles Lakers on Saturday.

Morant, the heavy favourite for the Rookie of the Year award, tallied 27 points as the Grizzlies beat James and the Lakers 105-88.

He and James swapped jerseys after the game, with the four-time MVP heaping praise on the 20-year-old point guard.

"The kid is super special," James said after the road defeat snapped a seven-game winning streak for the 45-13 Lakers.

"Like I said when we just played him in LA, Memphis got a great one. They got a great one. So, the sky's the limit for the kid

"I didn't even know I was getting his jersey actually. I gave him mine, for sure, but I didn't know he was returning the favour. But it's pretty cool.

"I think it's just mutual respect. I've watched him for quite a while now.

"And once he obviously got to the league you start to pay attention more and more and the relationship starts if that guy wants it, from my side.

"And it's just all about understanding what those guys [rookies] are going through because I was in that position before as well."

Speaking to ESPN about the "open-door policy" he has with other NBA players who approach him, James said: "I've always thought about that. Like, what young guys are coming up in the ranks that will be able to continue to carry it on after I'm gone.

"You look at Ja and you look at Zion [Williamson]. You look at Jayson Tatum. You look at Luka Doncic and Trae Young, and the list goes on and on.

"Those guys are just not only great on the floor but also, more importantly, off the floor. And that's a great thing to have. Our league is in a very, very good place."

Zion Williamson insisted he is not worried about pipping Ja Morant to the Rookie of the Year award as his chief concern is helping the New Orleans Pelicans reach the playoffs.

A knee injury delayed Williamson's much-anticipated debut in the NBA regular season by three months, during which time Morant assumed the role of the league's outstanding rookie.

Morant, picked second, directly behind Williamson in the 2019 NBA Draft, has led the Memphis Grizzlies to a 28-26 record and the eighth seed in the Western Conference at the All-Star break.

And it is a top-eight finish with the 11th-placed Pels that is motivating Williamson, who delivered back-to-back 30-point games prior to the interval to enhance his own Rookie of the Year case.

"Honestly, it's not even up to me," Williamson told ESPN of the Rookie of the Year race.

"I'm just playing and trying to get a playoff spot for my team.

"If I win it, it's nice, but if not, it's fine. It just comes with the game.

"I do want it but if I don't get it I'm not worried because I did miss half the season.

"Ja's been playing incredible so he has earned it."

Williamson's outstanding performances in high school and college meant he was the most hyped prospect to enter the league since LeBron James in 2003.

Pelicans executive vice president of basketball operations David Griffin tried to temper expectations back in June when he said New Orleans were "Jrue Holiday's team" and Williamson must not be considered "the saviour of this franchise".

Yet Williamson has quickly established himself as the centrepiece of New Orleans' team, a fact that has taken him aback too.

"I think the thing that has surprised me the most is how much my team-mates look to me to try and make an impact," the 19-year-old added.

"I'm a rookie and I thought they would let me feel the game out before they started giving me the ball but, no, they trust in me."

Much of the focus at the All-Star Game will be on the headline event and the Slam Dunk Contest, but the Rising Stars Challenge also offers great intrigue.

Zion Williamson, Ja Morant, Luka Doncic and Trae Young will all be involved as Team USA take on Team World.

With the early success that quartet have enjoyed in their fledgling careers, the Rising Stars Challenge should serve as further compelling evidence the future of the NBA is in good hands.

Here we guide you through what to watch for when the league's brightest talents do battle.

 

ZION & JA TEAM UP

Williamson and Morant appear poised to contest a fascinating rivalry over the course of their careers, but on Friday they will be on the same side.

Number one overall pick Williamson, sidelined for much of the year with a knee injury, and Rookie of the Year favourite Morant went head-to-head two weeks ago and offered a glimpse into the future as Zion's New Orleans Pelicans beat the Memphis Grizzlies.

The Rising Stars Challenge will provide a window into how the pair's talents complement each other, which could potentially be crucial for future USA Olympic coaches.

With Morant set for a prestigious honour and Williamson having recorded two double-doubles in eight games, Team World will have a hard time slowing them down.

 

DONCIC DOUBLES UP

Likely to finish high in the MVP voting, Doncic will - along with Young - double up at All-Star weekend.

The Dallas Mavericks guard will contest the All-Star Game as well as the Rising Stars Challenge, having been picked as a starter for Team LeBron.

With the odds in favour of Team USA winning the Rising Stars Challenge, Doncic's best chance of success in Chicago should be in the headline event.


UNDER-THE-RADAR STARS

While Williamson, Morant and Doncic will claim most of the attention among the rising stars, there are several less heralded players with the chance to snatch some of the limelight.

Jaren Jackson Jr. and Canadian Brandon Clarke will face off having played an instrumental role in the Grizzlies' rise to playoff contention.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander should be crucial to Team World's hopes, his development unhindered by a trade from the Los Angeles Clippers to the upstart Oklahoma City Thunder.

Eric Paschall's opportunities to shine on a national stage have been limited thanks to the demise of the Golden State Warriors this season, but the forward will have the chance to prove he is the Dubs' latest second-round gem.

 

YOUNG TRIBUTE TO KOBE

Proceedings at the United Center are set to be dominated by tributes to Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna, who were killed in a helicopter crash last month.

In the wake of their tragic passing, an emotional Young - having been mentored by Bryant - scored 45 points in the Atlanta Hawks' win over the Washington Wizards.

With two games on his agenda, Young will have ample opportunity to honour his idol by delivering on the court in his first appearance at the weekend as an All-Star.

Ja Morant says the Memphis Grizzlies will keep playing with a chip on their shoulder after his first career triple-double helped inspire a comeback win over the Washington Wizards.

The Grizzlies earned a 106-99 victory on the road on the back of Morant's 27 points, 10 assists and as many rebounds. 

It saw the Grizzlies move to 27-26 for the campaign, one more triumph than some sportsbooks were projecting at the beginning of the season.

Morant, who is in the hunt to win the NBA's Rookie of the Year, says the team – who are eighth in the Western Conference – remain fuelled to succeed due to being written off.

"I feel like we all here just have a chip on our shoulder," said Morant. 

"Like I said before, they had us picked to win 26 games this year. That's a chip right there, and we just passed that tonight. But the chip won't leave."

Speaking post game to Fox Sports, Morant said: "[It was] our mindset [that earned the win]. 

"We all felt like as a whole we weren't playing how we wanted to play, how we needed to play. We had to pick up our energy well.

"I mean it's our fight, we live by never give up, go out and compete each and every night. Always play together. Tonight we came back late in fourth quarter and came out with a big win on the road."

The Wizards led by 12 at the end of the first but went 4-for-26 shooting in the final quarter and Grizzlies head coach Taylor Jenkins saluted the team's fighting spirit.

"It was awesome for Ja to get his first career triple-double, the guys are super happy for him," he said. 

"But one of the biggest plays of the game was the late shot clock, he finds Brandon Clarke, who had been struggling all game, trusted his team-mate, found an open three and it was a big-time shot.

"There was so much trust throughout the game for our guys, they kept fighting, kept communicating, kept their spirits up. 

"I'm really proud of them, this could have been a game where we said 'we just don't have it man, nothing's working for us' but they kept their heads up."

Kevin Love joked Ja Morant almost ended his career with a spectacular failed slam dunk attempt in the Cleveland Cavaliers' 114-107 NBA win over the Memphis Grizzlies on Friday.

Morant sprung high into the air and made contact with Love's head as he just about leaped over him, with both players ending up on the deck after the ball struck the rim.

Love later tweeted: "Ja almost ended my professional career with this dunk...that kid is something special."

The Cavaliers forward added: "Boy, I was so glad he missed that dunk.

"I looked back, I helped him up. That was my tip of the hat to him. That kid, he's really special and you gotta give credit where credit is due. He's going to continue to get better."

Morant also took his failed attempt to add two points in good spirits.

"He was in the way," he quipped. "You don't get any cool points if you miss it.

"I probably cocked it back too much because it hit the rim."

Jordan Clarkson top scored with 33 points in a second successive victory for Cleveland (8-21).

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