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Conley, Lee and Gasol play big as Memphis Grizzlies defeat New Orleans Pelicans 101-99

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It's an L, but the Pelicans had some bright spots and the schedule is about to get easier.

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The New Orleans Pelicans fell  to the Memphis Grizzlies 101-99 in the FedEx Forum in Memphis, Tennessee. Anthony Davis staved off injury to finish with 21 points, eight rebounds, and two assists. Marc Gasol led the way for the Grizzlies with 16 points, 10 rebounds, four assists, and two steals.

With the loss, the Pelicans are now 13-27 overall and losers of five their last seven games. With today's loss by the Utah Jazz, the Pelicans remained 4.5 games out of the eighth spot in the Western Conference playoff race.

It's always tough sledding in Memphis. Not because the Pelicans are bad, but because the Grizzlies and their Grit and Grind ethos muck up games. Zach Randolph and Gasol inside and Mike Conley, Tony Allen and Courtney Lee on the perimeter turn games into a slog. As the league continues to move more and more towards a faster pace and launching threes, watching Memphis get it done without that is always a treat -- a nice changeup towards the rest of the league.

Today's game had some early offense as both teams showed off their wits. Anthony Davis got off to a great start with nine points meanwhile Gasol and Randolph combined for 10. When the Pelicans were not turning it over, they couldn't miss in an oddly enough boring first quarter, shooting 64.3 percent. The Pelicans rode this hot start to a 50% field goal percentage at halftime.

The combination of Jrue Holiday and Ryan Anderson played really well, combining for 21 of the team's 50 points. Anderson knocked down five shots, including a buzzer beater three right before the end of the half, while Jrue did a good job of handling the ball and finding teammates. He also grabbed two rebounds in his 11 minutes, too.

What kept the game close was Memphis' guard play. Mike Conley, a returning from injury Mike Conley, scored 10 points and was right back to his pesky ways. Other than a poor air ball in the first quarter, I found Conley playing excellent basketball on both ends. He was an architect of Memphis' offense with five assists to go with the 10 points, and he bothered and directed traffic on the defensive end, disrupting Cole and Holiday at times.

Alongside Conley played Courtney Lee. Perhaps future Pelicans free agency target Courtney Lee had 10 points of his own, including two threes. Conley and Lee combined for 4-of-5 shooting from beyond the arc, and while Conley's defensive performance was more voicetrous, Lee had a solid, quiet defensive half on Eric Gordon and Dante Cunningham by just bothering them whenever they had possession.

It was a rather nondescript second half. The third quarter for New Orleans was highlighted by Eric Gordon taking and making some good shots, Omer Asik finding the basket on three separate occasions and an Alexis Ajinca travel. The Pelicans shot 39.1 percent in the third, while Memphis shot just 36.4 percent. The effects of Davis not playing much in the quarter was apparent as New Orleans' offense sputtered after he left with back issues.

I wouldn't label the third quarter as New Orleans' best defensive quarter, as they allowed Memphis to shoot a blistering 63.6 percent from three; however, this was the frame where I saw some interesting stops on the defensive end for New Orleans. The Pelicans have been bad on D for most of the year, but there was that small stretch where they jumped to the middle of the pack. That defense came out in a few of the final possessions as New Orleans tried to take the lead. I liked that.

Ultimately, though, New Orleans fell today because they couldn't get stops. Marc Gasol had a rather loud quarter, notching seven points, five rebounds and three assists. (He also played solid defense against AD at points.) Matt Barnes finished with 12 points and Jeff Green added 8. In the end, the Pelicans lost because of the defense late, some rough possessions and an odd coaching choice. I thought Alvin Gentry should've fouled, but he didn't and it worked out...

Only it didn't. The Pelicans saw Marc Gasol tap the ball back to end it. Funny how things work. Notes a plenty, I think.

Game Notes

  • Anthony Davis had a back injury AND a hand injury. Other than that, he finished with 21 points, eight rebounds, two assists, three steals and three blocks. There has been talk of him not playing 100% all the time (a minor gripe to me) and him not being a leader (a hot take), but man, he's one of the top seven players in the league. Can we really be mad that he isn't running every loose ball out on a team that's stuck in the middle? I can't. It's a bit concerning that in the midst of a losing season, people have turned to overanalyzing AD, but here we are.

  • Jrue Holiday was awesome once again. I'm still hesitant in putting him in the keep category, but if he can keep it up, he should remain on a roster that needs a ton of new blood. 23 points and nine assists in 28 minutes. I can only describe it like this: Tyreke Evans is rock and roll as a point guard, while Jrue Holiday is straight jazz.

  • I'm on Dante Cunningham three-point watch at this point. With him in New Orleans for the next three years, becoming a decent corner shooter would be a huge development for him and the Pelicans' bench. I like the intensity he brings, and while some of it is empty in terms of the score sheet, it does help. If he can hit a few threes at a decent rate, say 33% or so, that would be nice boost for NOLA.

  • Eric Gordon struggled with 2-7 shooting, and on a night where Ryan Anderson isn't going supernova and Tyreke Evans is out, Gordon was the one Pelican who needed to take a larger offensive load. The combination of Lee and Barnes forced Gordon to take some bad shots, but he shares a lot of responsibility for failing to perform well on both ends of the floor.

  • I'm not sure why, but Gentry should have considered Luke Babbitt over Alonzo Gee today. Gee finished with six rebounds, but I would've liked to have seen another shooter -- the Pelicans needed it, finishing with 31.6 percent shooting from beyond the arc.

The Pelicans should retool and look towards building the future, I'm not moving from that position. That said, the next stretch of basketball really could help their chances of making the playoffs. With 4.5 games separating them from getting back in the thick of the race, I expect them to go for it. We'll find out soon enough how it all unfolds.