Ah, do you feel that? That gentle breeze, that freshly cut lawn smell, that smile plastered across your face for no discernible reason? That’s spring hope, something the Pelicans seem to have stumbled upon over the last week.
New Orleans looks to continue their hopeful rejuvenation this Tuesday against the Memphis Grizzlies, as the Demarcus Cousins era finally seems to be hitting some kind of stride.
The Pelicans have shown extreme promise over the last few games, winning their last two contests and four of their last five. Most notable during this positive stretch has been the extremely potent offense New Orleans has been able to generate. Scoring over 100 points in each of their last five games is a good indicator that things seem to be clicking — that’s not to mention tallying over 120 points the last two games. Perhaps more impressive then that are the halves the team has been able to put together: a 68-point first half in Houston and a 75-point second half against Minnesota. Those are explosive numbers that could indicate an offensive juggernaut in the works.
New Orleans offense will be put to the test though, in an intriguing matchup against the defensive Memphis powerhouse. According to NBA.com, the Grizzlies rank in the top 5 of defensive efficiency on the year, and they are second in the league in defensive field goal percentage. The Grizzlies come into this game on the back of an extremely impressive 5-game winning streak, including a very imposing win against the Spurs this past Saturday.
The matchup should be especially well fought because of how the Grizzlies are built, namely similar to Pelicans, from the big men down. Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph are their own type of fire and ice; Gasol is a shifty big man who plays with finesse while Randolph is a physical force to be reckoned with.
Gasol is in the midst of a career year, making the All-Star game and averaging 20 points per game, the highest mark of his career. None of that is to mention the defensive headaches he’s given Anthony Davis on the year: in three games head to head, Davis is only averaging 14 points on 33% shooting when facing Gasol this season.
Randolph on the other hand, is putting up career lows, with age and role finally starting to show. A nagging injury has only allowed Randolph to start three games and he is averaging 24 minutes per game this season. Perhaps with Cousins now on the Pelicans, Gasol will be forced to guard him, allowing more space for Davis to operate.
However, in order for New Orleans to secure a win, they are going to have to ride the wave that’s brought them this recent resurgence in offense: increased production from players not named Davis or Cousins. The last two games have seen supporting players step up in a big way; in the last game verse the Timberwolves it was Crawford, putting up 22 points and the game before Solomon Hill went off for a career-high 30.
Crawford has been perhaps the most surprising bright spot for the Pelicans, averaging 14 points off the bench since joining the team and shooting 50% from three. If there is one thing the addition of Cousins has definitely done, it’s open up the floor for the rest of the players, as the team’s 3pt% and attempts have gone up since his landing in the Crescent City.
It might be a little late in the season for playoff hopes considering the size of the hole, but who knows, the Pelicans seem high in hope these days.
What: New Orleans Pelicans vs Memphis Grizzlies
Where: Smoothie King Center — New Orleans, LA
When: March 21, 2017, 7:00 PM Central
How: Fox Sports New Orleans, Fox Sports Southeast, 99.5 FM WRNO