The New Orleans Pelicans will face the Memphis Grizzlies for a fourth and final time this season at the FedExForum. They will be looking to avoid a season sweep by their division rivals after having lost each of their first three meetings on the 2015-16 schedule.
On February 8th, Marc Gasol left with a foot injury against the Portland Trail Blazers after he was listed as questionable entering the game. Shortly thereafter, it was announced he had a fracture in his right foot. There was still some hope that he could return in time for the postseason, but that evaporated after undergoing surgery on February 20th.
Many proclaimed the winners of 9 of their previous 11 games before that contest with the Trail Blazers could concievably fall out of the playoff race. Losing a player of Gasol's ilk is nothing to scoff at, especially considering how poorly the Grizzlies had started the season. Would they have trouble walking the line of respectability once again?
Well, following the center's last appearance on the court, Memphis has seemingly not skipped a beat, posting some excellent wins. For instance, earlier this week, they knocked off the Cavaliers in Cleveland without the services of not only Gasol but also Mike Conley, Zach Randolph and Matt Barnes. They have won 8 of 12 games since that fateful night, and appear primed to earn the 5th seed in the Western Conference playoffs.
That's an incredible display of resiliency and deserves much more national attention than they've received. Sadly, with legitimate championship hopes dashed, this type of story has little chance of sitting front and center. However, I urge Pelicans fans take note of it for one simple fact. This Grizzlies squad, with nearly both foot out the door of relevancy, is showing the mettle of a champion all the way to the finish line.
Starting next season, this is the type of urgency I dream to see regularly from the New Orleans Pelicans. Winning no matter the odds. Showing signs of overachiever status. And most importantly, emerging from games victorious more times than not, regardless of how poorly the game plan is being executed.
Some continue to say the team is deeply flawed or needs a new build around Anthony Davis. I somewhat disagree with this notion. There has been enough talent around the last several years, and this was proven during Monty Williams final season as the Pelicans made the postseason in a ridiculously competitive West despite the team finishing in the top-10 in injuries.
In layman's terms, the team possesses the two necessary All-Star figures in Davis and Jrue Holiday. Quincy Pondexter, Tyreke Evans and Dante Cunningham can fill valuable minutes, and all hope should not be lost with role players like Omer Asik.
There is no doubt the roster needs better completion and the current coaching staff needs to show something, but in my mind just as large of a question is how resolute can this core grow? The Pelicans have knocked off three of the top four teams in the NBA amid disappointment, but they have failed to develop the wherewithal to avoid bad losses, like to a Lakers squad that was 2-14 in their prior 16 games or a Mavericks team that rested four of their five starters.
This Memphis Grizzlies team would have never fallen victim in such games, and New Orleans needs an Anthony Davis-led team to soon follow suit. Grit 'N Grind wins count the same as those entertaining 120+ home team scoring explosions. Take heed when the offense isn't firing on all cylinders!
3 Keys to Watch
- Taking care of the basketball. The Grizzlies are very good at taking care of the ball (6th in turnovers) while forcing mistakes on the other end (4th in opponent turnovers). In their wins, the Pelicans have averaged 12.1 turnovers; in losses, 13.8.
- Rebounding on the Grizzlies' side of things. Shockingly, Memphis is last in the league in defensive rebounding (30.9) and they rank 23rd in defensive rebounding percentage. (The Grizzlies ranked 11th the previous two years.) If the Pelicans are serious about fetching a win, they need to crash the offensive glass. They've been one of the poorer OREB teams all season, but of late, they've done well in this area during wins.
- The Davis and Holiday duo! After combining for 78 points, 17 rebounds, 11 assists and 7 threes, what can they do for encore? Their minutes together for the rest of the year are as good of a reason as any to watch the Pelicans until this campaign comes to a close.