The Pelicans have to be in good graces at the moment.
No, they're still sitting with a 4-13 record, losers of their last two games of the season, but a previous three-game winning streak quelled some of the recent discussion regarding New Orleans tanking the remaining schedule. Anthony Davis has put together some excellent performances, and Ryan Anderson looks like a candidate for the sixth man of the year award.
If that doesn't entice you, perhaps the return of Tyreke Evans and Norris Cole will do the trick as both are one step closer to making a return to the floor. In fact, NOLA.com is reporting that both could be back for this game, which would be excellent, leaving Quincy Pondexter as the last Pelican to return.
Looking to get back on the right track, the Pelicans are hosting a division rival, the Memphis Grizzlies. Memphis sits fifth in the conference with a 10-8 overall record, but a point differential of -3.3 and a net rating of -3.4. The offense (98.8 per 100 possessions) isn't great, while the defense, normally a strong point, sits 18th in the league at 102.2 points per 100. As of late, though, Memphis has turned it on defensively, kicking at 94.8 defensively over the last five games.
Marc Gasol has seen a dip in scoring, but still provides much of the same in the rebounding and passing departments. He remains a solid rebounder and one of the team's offensive conduits in the high-post. Mike Conley has continued his steady play, even though real plus-minus (RPM) rates him negatively defensively and Zach Randolph is giving solid production. There's been a drop with their production, though, resulting in a -1.4 net rating when they play together.
A part of that decline could be the fault of two other players within lineup. Jeff Green has been nothing short of a disaster at either forward position and Courtney Lee, normally a great shooter from beyond the arc is hitting 22% from three. There's some Tony Allen in there, some Brandan Wright and some Matt Barnes, but it hasn't seemed to click yet. Mario Chalmers was added in a trade with Miami and he has provided some shooting, hitting 36% of his three-point attempts.
As far as the "window closing" idea, I have no clue. I thought Dave Joerger was a good coach, he might be, but this nucleus isn't working this season. They've shown signs in the last five games, but they'll need a major move if they want to contend moving forward. Personally, I would like to see Jordan Adams play a bit more, in hopes that they can find a decent wing who can space the floor, but after bringing back Mike Conley this summer, getting better shooters (pretty sure they will be interested in Ryan Anderson) should help this team in an attempt to maximize the Conley-Gasol-Randolph years.
Keys to Victory
Ryan Anderson and Anthony Davis
Hey, hey, hey. The trio of Davis, Anderson and Ish Smith has a 110.1 offensive rating and an 8.6 positive net rating in 209 minutes this season. I want to focus on the first two, though. I think that combination should be able to bother and pester Memphis' defense this season. Davis with his ability to score at the rim and effectively score against Gasol away from the rim and Anderson spacing the floor. Get those two out there and try to score on Memphis' defense.
Both have been really good in pick-and-roll play - Davis is shooting 51.6% on pick-and-roll plays while Anderson has a 58.9 eFG% (Adjusted for valuing threes over twos) as a roll men. Memphis is 15th in the league in defending roll men, so it could be a good test of the Grizzlies defense.
The Pelicans are 29th in the league in offensive rebounding percentage, but I would like to see an uptick, just against Memphis. The Grizzlies aren't great in transition, but they have a few players who can do damage in those situation, including Jeff Green (63.6 eFG% shooting in transition), Mike Conley (53.8 eFG%) and Matt Barnes (65.0 eFG%). A couple offensive rebounds and second chance points eliminates the chance of these three getting points in an area they had success from this season.
Avoid big games from lesser players
This is always key, but sometimes, guys have good games when you least expect it. The three that scare me are Barnes, Green and Courtney Lee. The Pelican defense, still 29th in the league behind the Milwaukee Bucks (of all teams) has improved to 22nd over the last five games and part of that is due to Asik's return. With Pondexter still out and Cole and Evans getting back into the swing of things, the defense is more than capable of a bad night.
Green is one that scares me the most because if he does have his annual Jeff Green game, I have no clue who New Orleans would put on him. Perhaps Cunningham, but Green, on his annual nights, could get past defenders like him and finish at the basket. Lee scares me from a "finding his stroke from beyond the arc" perspective while Barnes is one that can have the good rebounding game plus put forth a solid defensive effort.
I feel good about this one for New Orleans. I think the Pelicans have a chance to take this game and grab their fifth victory of the season. New Orleans has the offensive combination to challenge Memphis, while the defense should be spared a bit with Memphis' poor offensive game. New Orleans' defense is still the weakest unit on the floor, which scares me, but I think NOP is on the way up and beating a decent team in Memphis can help continue to change their fortunes.