In 2013-14, the Pelicans were several minutes away from a season sweep of the Memphis Grizzlies. In their final meeting, the team surrendered a 7 point lead with just over 3 minutes remaining.
While besting a division rival and playoff participant in four games would have been sweet, it doesn't take away how effective the Pelicans were against the Grizzlies. Besides the three wins against them, the Pelicans only beat the Blazers, Clippers, Rockets and Thunder once among the top 8 in the Western Conference. All the remaining matchups went for losses, 23 of them to be exact.
Making the playoffs will probably require finishing stronger than 7-23 against the better teams.
A Tougher Opponent?
While last year's win total against Memphis was impressive, the Grizzlies this season should pose a more formidable foe. First, Marc Gasol missed one game and wasn't remotely 100% in another. As it is to be expected of great players, Gasol has followed up an injury-plagued season with a cracking hot start.
Second, the Grizzlies defense had a slow start a year ago, but they appear to be clicking on all cylinders out of the gates this October. Through 3 games, their defensive rating stands at a sparkling 91.5.
Three, their bench has been re-stocked. Quincy Pondexter is back from a broken foot and the Grizzlies signed Vince Carter. These additions, along with Courtney Lee attending his first training camp under head coach Dave Joerger, should improve on their questionable perimeter shooting. Moreover, more options means dead-weight Tayshaun Prince has less minutes to bring their team down.
Three Keys to Victory
- Hold our own in the frontcourt. The Ryan Anderson-Anthony Davis-Omer Asik combination is well on it's way in becoming one of the most feared frontcourts in the NBA, but they'll have their hands full with the tandem of Zach Randolph-Marc Gasol. Although it's early, it is relevant to note both frontcourts are in the top 6 in efficiency in 2014-15 and both teams sit numero uno and duo in points in the paint. A Pelicans strength must continue to be one.
- Respect the Grizzlies defense. It's no secret what the Grizzlies are all about -- defense. To be successful, the Pelicans will need to be careful to not overly force the issue. Against the Mavericks, a poor defensive team, they picked up five charges and a few other offensive fouls. It's difficult to score on Memphis in the paint, even tougher to get to the free throw line. Thus, for instance, Tyreke Evans is going to have to be doubly careful. One, in how he attacks Tony Allen, one of the best on the ball defenders in the game, and two, what he does once he's around the rim.
- Fire the afterburners. Zach Randolph didn't have a prayer staying with Anthony Davis last year. This season, the discrepancy should be that much worse. In the Pel's lone loss, Joerger switched Prince onto Davis and Randolph was hidden on Al-Farouq Aminu. The after-halftime adjustment worked perfectly. Fortunately the Pelicans no longer have such an obvious ineffective offensive option in the starting five (although Gordon is apparently attempting to make a case) so the Grizzlies will need to figure something else out. However, Monty should still stress the team takes advantage of their team speed to blitz the Grizzlies at every turn.