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NBA Preview: Can the Pelicans Win Back-to-Back Games for the First Time in a Month?!

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New Orleans earned a much-need victory over Cleveland, but to climb back to .500, a victory over the slipping Grizz is just as critical.

NBA: Preseason-New Orleans Pelicans at Memphis Grizzlies Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

The New Orleans Pelicans took care of business on Saturday night, but defeating the league’s-worst 8-32 Cleveland Cavaliers isn’t quite worth writing home about.

At 18-22, the Pelicans have set up shop as the West’s 14th-worst squad, and have even begun exploring the neighborhood. In it, they’ll find the bottom-feeding Phoenix Suns, and just one game ahead, the Dallas Mavericks, Minnesota Timberwolves, and the Memphis Grizzlies.

You should probably remember the Grizzlies. The Pelicans played them exactly one month ago today, falling short 107-103 due to (you guessed it) poor clutch-time scoring. The Pelicans led by eight points with 5:11 remaining, a cushion the Grizzlies overtook with ease by closing on a 12-3 run.

The Pelicans also were very kind to their counterparts, offering 18 turnovers, and 26 points along with them.

But while the Pelicans have failed to win consecutive games for well over the past month, things have been slightly different recently at least in the turnover department. In addition to a net-rating of just -1.0 over their 7-15 run (before Cleveland), the Pelicans have given the ball away just 11.5 times per game over their last eight. That’s nearly a full turnover less than league-leading San Antonio (12.3).

The improvement has yet to translate, however, as the Pelicans have yet to win consecutive games since November 17th and 19th. The Pelicans have improved their overall clutch rating to 25th (yowza!), but they still remain a dreadful 88.1 offensive rating during that critical 62 minutes.

At 18-21, the Memphis Grizzlies are at their own fork in the road. Trading two second-round picks for Justin Holiday has not stopped their five-game slide, nor has it helped them in the race for the West’s eighth and final seed. Marc Gasol is soon to be 34 (January 29th), and the Grizzlies lack the tenacious defenders to fully clamp down on opposing offenses. With the league’s absolute slowest pace, they’ve still managed to allow 109 points per game over the course of this streak, far worse than their season average of 102.6. Their average scoring margin of -1.4 is 21st in the NBA.

Defeating the Grizzlies is simple: Score points.

The Grizz are still ranked sixth, despite their latest failings, and lack the offensive firepower to truly race away from the Pelicans (defensive effort in the first half be damned).

The Grizz are second in defense in the paint, but that didn’t stop Anthony Davis and Julius Randle from scoring last time, as the two combined for 51 points, and the Pelicans had 58 points in the paint on the night.

The Grizzlies are 23rd in defending in transition, and you can thank the slow-footed Marc Gasol for that. With Elfrid Payton back pushing the pace, the Pelicans need to torch this team up and down the court.

Creating additional opportunities will be difficult to come by. The Grizzlies are third in defending the defensive boards, and seventh in turnovers (13.8). The Pelicans will have to earn their quality looks with multiple actions per possessions and ball movement. Improving their three-point shooting would also be a boon (7/29).

Last time, the Pelicans did a masterful job of minimizing Mike Conley Jr. and Jaren Jackson Jr. holding them to but nine and three points respectively, on 2/12 and 1/4. Conley was rendered useless by Jrue Holiday, who badly outplayed him to the tune of 20 points, 11 assists and five rebounds — making his case as Klay Thompson’s replacement in the upcoming All-Star reserve selections. JJJ could barely stay on the floor, with four fouls in just 14 minutes.

But JayMychal Green was the fulcrum that gave the Grizz life, especially late, scoring six of his final 24 minutes during the game’s closing minutes. Kyle Anderson (Kevin’s true love) led the rest, with 19 points on an efficient 8/12 from the field.

The time is now for the New Orleans Pelicans. The schedule has given them a lifeline as they catch both the Cavaliers and Grizzlies at opportune times. Should they manage the victory and split the season series (for now), another home victory over the Cavaliers could return the Pelicans within just two games of .500. A modest accomplishment, but a much-needed boost of confidence as the Pelicans for their next five-game Western Conference road trip.

New Orleans Memphis
Pace: 102.1 (6th) Pace: 94.7 (30th)
ORtg: 114.3 (2nd) ORtg: 105.7 (27th)
DRtg: 112.7 (24th) DRtg: 107.2 (6th)
Projected Starters:
New Orleans Memphis
PG - Elfrid Payton PG - Mike Conley
SG - Jrue Holiday SG - Garrett Temple
SF - E'Twaun Moore F - Kyle Anderson
F - Julius Randle PF - Jaren Jackson Jr
C - Anthony Davis C - Marc Gasol
-

Injuries

Pelicans: E’Twaun Moore (questionable, quadricep contusion), Nikola Mirotic (out, ankle)

Grizzlies: Jevon Carter (questionable, knee soreness), Dillon Brooks (doubtful, toe soreness)

For more on the upcoming matchup, listen to the Locked on Grizzlies podcast! This episode is hosted by our friend from Grizzly Bear Blues, Mark King, and features our very own Preston Ellis!

Where To Watch

What: New Orleans Pelicans vs Memphis Grizzlies

Where: Smoothie King Center, New Orleans, LA

When: Monday, January 7, 2018, 7:00 p.m. Central

How: FSNO, 99.5 FM WRNO