The Southwest Division leading, and current three-seed in the West, Grizzlies take on the Pelicans for the second time this season. The two divisional foes met over two months ago in Memphis, and the Grizzlies walked away with a 12 point victory. Despite winning by double digits, the Pelicans held their own against one of the West’s best teams: Memphis outscored the Pelicans by seven after the first quarter and that was the largest point differential per quarter.
In the first game, the Pelican starters were collectively inefficient. Anthony Davis, Tyreke Evans, Eric Gordon and Jrue Holiday all scored double digit points, but shot a combined 39 percent (21 for 54). If you want to factor in Omer Asik’s 1-7 night, that number drops to 36 percent. Want another NSFW number? The Pelican starting five plus/minus was -48. Tyreke Evans had the best number of the bunch: a plus/minus rating of, wait for it, zero. Oh and the five bench players who played that night, Ryan Anderson, Austin Rivers, Alexis Ajinca, Luke Babbit and Darius Miller (let’s take a moment to pour one out for Miller), scored a collective 19 points on 28 percent shooting. Yeah.
Memphis on the other hand got a little bit of help from everybody. The Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph frontcourt tandem easily one-upped Davis and Asik, combining for 31 points, 22 boards and three blocks. Mike Conley had an uncharacteristically poor night from the floor (2-10), but knocked down all seven of his free throws and added in five assists and a pair of blocks and steals. Since then, the Grizzlies have won 21 of their past 31 games.
The Pelicans finally broke the mold and quit alternating wins and losses for the first time since December 16-18. Granted they’ve now lost back-to-back games so I guess that’s not technically progress. Still, from December 18 through Monday, here’s how the Pelicans fared: win, loss, win, loss, win, loss, win, loss, win, loss. Looking at a stretch like that and you’ll see why the Pelicans are on the outside looking in for the playoffs (and the Grizzlies aren’t). This current run has been maddeningly frustrating and it’s featured a little bit of everything: expected wins (the Durant-less Thunder and Phoenix), unexpected wins (Houston twice and San Antonio), understandable losses (Washington and Chicago) and defeats that they had no business losing (Indiana and Charlotte). Basically the Pelicans are drunk right now.
When Bears Attack
Offensively the Grizzlies are a team that, as a whole, is greater than the sum of its parts. Memphis is 14th in points per game and 25th in pace, and yet they’re 10th in offensive rating. Why? Because this is a team that knows what they do well and they stick to their identity. The Grizzlies have one of the best frontcourt tandems in basketball in Gasol and Z-Bo, and they allow the consistent yet underrated Mike Conley to create opportunities for them. Of those three, Conley has the worst shooting percentage: a mere 47 percent from the floor. Memphis’ other starters, Tony Allen and Courtney Lee, are shooting 48 and 50 percent respectively. This is a smart, efficient bunch offensively.
Memphis’ calling card is their defense though. The Grizz allow the sixth fewest points in the NBA (97.5), have the tenth best defensive rating (104.1) and defend the rim better than most teams in the Association: they allow opponents the 10th fewest shots within 5 feet of the basket (28.3) and have the sixth best opposing shooting percentage from that distance.
Three Keys to Victory
1. Push it to the Limit: we’ve talked about this before - the Pelicans, for whatever reason, don’t play at a tempo suitable to the players they have. Tonight Monty Williams needs to let his guys run. They don’t need to be the Steve Nash Seven Seconds or Less Suns team, but they can’t play Memphis’ game either. That cost them the first time the two played, and it cost them when the Pelicans played the Pacers a few weeks back. The Grizzlies are 27th in pace; get them uncomfortable by making them play faster than they’re used to doing.
2. Paint A Pretty Picture: whenever the Grizzlies and Pelicans play, you’re expecting to see two of the best frontcourt tandems in the NBA. In the two teams’ first matchup, only one of the pairings played like it. If the Pelicans want to win, Davis and Asik need to at least hold serve against Randolph- if he plays- and Gasol. Davis needs to redeem himself after November 3. His 14 and 8 on 50 percent shooting isn’t bad, but it’s not good enough against a frontcourt like Memphis’. The battle in the paint has to be an even one. If it’s lopsided like the first matchup, don’t be surprised if the result ends up the same.
3. Stretch Armstrong: Memphis clamps down on opponents close to the rim, but the defense loses its intensity the farther away they get from the basket. The Grizzlies are 13th in shooting percentage between five and nine feet, 25th from 10-14 ft., 17th from 15-19 ft., 22nd from 20-24 ft., and 26th from 25 to 29 ft. That’s not to say that New Orleans should fall in love with jump shots, but they’d be wise not to barrel toward the basket and hope for the best because Memphis just doesn’t allow teams to do that. Guys like Gordon, Ryan Anderson and Jrue Holiday need to make some outside shots. If Davis’ deadly 18 footer can fall too, then all the better.
What: Pelicans vs Grizzlies
Where: Smoothie King Center
When: January 9th, 7:00 PM
How: Fox Sports New Orleans, NBA League Pass