Last night against the Boston Celtics the expectation was the Pelicans would defeat a "lowly" Eastern Conference team and seize (temporarily) the 8th seed in the daunting Western Conference playoff race. Turnovers, poor shooting, and less than stellar defense in a decisive fourth quarter ensured instead a costly defeat. Thankfully with a back-to-back scheduled (their second of the week) tonight provides a new opportunity for the Pelicans to get back on track before going on the road.
Memphis, like the Pelicans, struggled against a cellar dweller last night. The Lakers (!) held a ten point lead with ten minutes to go before the Grindhouse wore them down. The first lead for the Grizzlies came with just 1:36 remaining in the game as Memphis finished the game on an 11-3 run to pull out the 97-90 victory. The Grizzlies probably arrived in New Orleans late last night still a little sore and hoping to shake off the ice; they shot just 1-11 behind the arc.
These teams have played twice so far with the home team pulling out a double digit victory in each game. On November 3rd the Pelicans built a brick palace in a 93-81 loss in Memphis. They bounced back on January 9th with a solid 106-95 victory featuring 50% shooting behind the arc led by Jrue Holiday (3-6), Eric Gordon (3-4), and Ryan Anderson (4-8). Sadly, two of those key contributors remain out due to injury.
Keys to Victory
Stay Big: Last night the Celtics went small and Monty Williams responded by playing Anthony Davis long minutes at center with Omer Asik and Alexis Ajinca on the bench. Predictably, the Boston Celtics took advantage by shooting 6-7 within eight feet during the fourth quarter.
Thankfully the Grizzlies are not going to go small. It's not in their DNA. The Pelicans are better when they play more traditional lineups and tonight affords such an opportunity. Alexis Ajinca will not have as much of an advantage off the bench going against Kosta Koufos than he has in recent games. When Asik leaves the floor Ajinca needs to avoid Gasol taking complete advantage of him (as he did November 9th) and provide some resistance.
Stop Sending Folks to the Foul Line: Last night the Celtics scored eight more points than the Pelicans at the foul line. In a game ultimately decided by six points that's a problem. The Memphis Grizzlies are 11th in free throw rate and find their way to the line (they outscored the Lakers by 21 on free throws in a seven point game last night) when they can't make shots. Norris Cole (5.6 fouls per 100 possessions) and Alexis Ajinca (8.8 fouls per 100 possessions) are the most foul prone players getting regular rotation minutes. They must keep the fouls down.
Make Shots: In their loss in Memphis the Pelicans shot 9-35 (25.7%) on uncontested shots. Winning at home they shot a more respectable 15-37 (40.5%). Both are still well on the low end for the Pelicans. Eric Gordon, Quincy Pondexter, Luke Babbitt, and company need to turn open looks into points. Not bricks.
Treasure Possessions: 18 turnovers last night. Eww. That will not get the job done against an elite team like the Grizzlies. Dribble drives into wild jump pass attempts doomed Tyreke Evans and Norris Cole to 12 of those turnovers. New Orleans must take care of the ball if they want to pull out a win.
What: Pelicans vs Grizzlies
Where: The Smoothie King Center
When: March 7th, 6:00 PM
How: Fox Sports New Orleans, League Pass