An impressive victory over the Golden State Warriors and a loss by Oklahoma City and the New Orleans Pelicans sit in the eighth spot in the Western Conference playoffs, while controlling their own destiny. It’s a great place to be considering that I was tapped out of playoff hopes and wanted the Pelican brass to sit Anthony Davis the rest of the season after his shoulder injury against Houston. To turn that around and win four in a row (and five of the six since) is nothing short of impressive.
On Wednesday, the Pelicans look to make it six of seven when they travel to Tennessee to play the Memphis Grizzlies.
Stats of Note
Post All-Star break, the Grizzlies have remained one of the top defenses in the league, ranking fifth in the league at 99.7 points per 100 possessions allowed. Their defense is running on all cylinders at the moment. The trio of Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph and Kosta Koufos gives the Grizzlies a solid nucleus around the rim, even if Randolph isn’t individually spectacular. Mike Conley is still defending well and Courtney Lee has played well on the defensive end in Tony Allen’s absence.
Offensively, the Grizzlies aren’t the best offense, 23rd in the league at 99.1 points per 100 possessions, but I tend to think they’re a bit better than that number suggests. Gasol and Randolph are shooting over 48% from the floor since the ASB and Tony Allen was hitting on 53 percent of his field goals. The problem? Vince Cater (35% from the floor), Mike Conley (41%) and Courtney Lee (37%). Carter is hitting over 38% from beyond the arc, but Lee and Conley are hitting under 34% from the floor.
I would also be a fool if I didn’t mention how much I enjoy their bench. It’s a pretty nice collection of talent. After being benched in New York, Beno Udrih has had a bounce back season as Memphis’ backup point guard. We profiled Jeff Green vs. Quincy Pondexter, but I still like Green’s game and he’s been solid as a reserve off the bench.
The Grizzlies are an odd team to me though. Earlier in the season, I found them as the second best team in the conference and possibly a title contender behind Golden State. Since then, I’ve been a bit gun shy on how I feel about them heading into the playoffs. I’ll say this, I think would feel comfortable placing them third, maybe fourth in the Western Conference playoffs hierarchy behind Golden State, San Antonio and Houston. Still, they have the talent to go far and if the game breaks before, the Grizzlies making the finals wouldn’t shock me.
That, and I’m a sucker for good defensive teams.
Keys to Victory
The three ball: Both as a weapon and something for Memphis, the Pelicans need to use the three ball. Ryan Anderson would be perfect, pulling Randolph from the post would be perfect and Eric Gordon off screens and cuts would be perfect, too. On the other end, the Grizzlies are in the midst of an offensive slump. The last time I said force threes, that team shot well, so I will merely offer that two of Memphis’ wings are shooting under 35% from three.
Offense/Defense: The Pelicans should counter Memphis’ offense with their own high-powered attack. Creative, I know. Tyreke Evans, Eric Gordon, Quincy Pondexter, Ryan Anderson and Anthony Davis for some stretches. Sure, the defense won’t be great, but if operated correctly, you have three solid shooters form beyond the arc, the best long-two shooter and Evans, who can get to the basket with ease.
Tyreke Evans: Speaking of Reke, this is a game for him to go off. This is perfect for him to attack the rim and control the offense. The Grizzlies could place several defensive players around him, but Evans could dish off to a shooter. I think Monty should run the previous lineup and allow Evans to go to work, just to see if can be effective.
Keep the good vibes going. Geaux Pelicans!
Who: Pelicans at Grizzlies
When: April 8, 2015, 8:00 EST, 7:00 CST
Where: Fedex Arena
How to Watch: League Pass, Fox Sports New Orleans