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NBA Preview: Welcome to the Ja Morant show! Pelicans and Grizzlies honor MLK Day on TNT

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Get ready for some fun watching the wizardry and flight of Ja Morant and his band of playoff hopefuls.

NBA: Cleveland Cavaliers at Memphis Grizzlies Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

One more game until the return of Zion Williamson, but in the meantime the Pelicans will get their first look of the year at the frontrunner for Rookie of the Year in his stead — Ja Morant.

Morant has been everything we salivated over this summer and more. The number two overall pick has put together historic rookie scoring-and-sharing numbers in a league where point guards are supposed to take time to develop.

The high flyer is one of only five players averaging 21.7 points and 8.4 assists per game per 36 joining LeBron James, Luka Doncic, Malcolm Brogdon and Trae Young.

But he’s the only one of them shooting over 40 percent from three-point range!

It’s Morant’s combination of hops and playmaking wizardry that has box score junkies and eye test addicts in absolute glee. The kid is the real deal, and he puts on a show.

Our Pels can’t afford to take in the sights. With less than half of the season remaining, they find themselves trailing these kids by four games with four head-to-head matchups left to play. The tiebreaker could ultimately prove critical in their quest to unlock the final playoff spot.

New Orleans sits 11 games under .500 and we’re still talking playoffs. Hey, it’s a more interesting goal than development.

By now you’ve heard all about the Pelicans strength of schedule and odds of making this historic turnaround from 6-22, but first they have to lay waste to the competition. And that won’t be easy. Morant and company have won seven consecutive games.

Sophomore and former number four overall pick Jaren Jackson Jr. has been a revelation alongside the rookie stud, averaging 17.8 points and 4.8 rebounds while shooting 40.8 from three on 4.8 attempts per game.

Dillon Brooks and rookie Brandon Clarke chime in with 15.4 and 12.2 points per game and each shoots over 39 percent from three.

Hell, even Jonas freaking Valunciunas is shooting 41.7 percent from three!

Memphis is the best team in the league in the paint, best at sharing the basketball, and fourth-best in transition, making them one of the most dangerous offensive groups in the NBA (and dare I say, fun?!).

However, as with any young team, these Grizz kids are more than willing to make mistakes on the other end, turning the ball over 15.3 times per game (22nd) which then leads to 14.4 fast break points on the other end (22nd).

You’ll catch a glimpse of some old familiar faces in Tyus Jones, Grayson Allen, Kyle Anderson — even our old friend, Solomon Hill!

Ultimately, the Pelicans need this game. The Grizz have been rolling and host this one on a pretty important day to not only their heritage but that of our great nation. The Pelicans can’t be distracted by that or take their focus from the task at hand.

Though New Orleans fell late at the hands of the Los Angeles Clippers, their play has been steady as a rock. If Derrick Favors can go (he’s listed as questionable with lower back soreness on the injury report), the Pelicans should dominate the boards and mitigate the Grizz’s looks in the paint. Valunciunas may match Favors workload which would give the Pelicans a decided advantage in the pick-and-roll but it could cancel out the advantage on the boards.

The Grizz should have no answer for Brandon Ingram. Jackson Jr. and some form of Solo, Clarke and Anderson may earn the first assignments. If he’s in form, Ingram should cook them all.

But the biggest test will come for Lonzo Ball and Josh Hart. They must slow Ja Morant. The kid is a wave of momentum and an injection of adrenaline that could cause the very roof to explode.

Jrue Holiday hasn’t played in over two weeks to rest due to an elbow and triceps strain, but he remains questionable on the injury report. The Pels could really use him to serve this kid from Murray State some humble pie.

Injury Report:

Jrue Holiday, Jahlil Okafor, and Derrick Favors are all listed as questionable.

JJ Redick is probable.

Zion Williamson has been upgraded to doubtful ahead of Wednesday’s anticipated return against the San Antonio Spurs.

Kenrich Williams and Darius Miller remain out.

The Grizzlies will be without Bruno Caboclo

Where To Watch/Listen

What: New Orleans Pelicans (16-27) at Memphis Grizzlies (20-22)

Where: FedEx Forum, Memphis - TN

When: Monday, January 20th, 2019 4:00 PM CST

How: ESPN

For more, please check out our latest podcast announcing the return of Zion and so much more, featuring David Grubb, Oleh Kosel, David Fisher and Kevin Barrios.

Let’s geaux, Pels!