The yoyo ride that is the 2020-21 season for the New Orleans Pelicans continues on the road tonight against the Memphis Grizzlies. This will mark the second meeting of the season between the two division rivals.
In the first matchup, New Orleans earned a 118-109 victory. That win was the third consecutive victory in what would turn out to be a four-game winning streak for the Pelicans. Hard to believe it happened only ten days ago. This time, the Grizzlies are catching the Pelicans on the opposite end of the spectrum, with New Orleans suffering three straight losses in which the defense was thoroughly dismantled.
Memphis is returning home after splitting a two-game road trip against the L.A. Lakers (115-105 loss) and the Sacramento Kings (124-110 win). Despite the victory on Sunday, the Grizzlies are struggling, having dropped five of their last seven contests. Suffice to say that both of these young Western Conference teams are still trying to find themselves this season.
The Pelicans have had the upper hand over the Grizzlies lately, winning the last four matchups dating back to last season. That doesn’t mean tonight will come easy though. One’s never sure which side of the Jekyll and Hyde performance will surface on a nightly basis; however, New Orleans has enjoyed success against Memphis because they own several matchup advantages.
Memphis had an extremely hard time containing Pelicans star forward Zion Williamson in their first season meeting. Williamson piled up 29 points in the win, but the funny thing is Zion was dogged by foul trouble the entire game, forcing him to miss large chunks of what would have been his regular rotation minutes. If he is able to stay out of foul trouble in this one, look for him to post an even larger scoring night. I really wouldn’t be surprised if Williamson goes for 40 points.
Like Zion, Pelicans forward Brandon Ingram also fared well against a Grizzlies front line that lacks the size and quickness to consistently stop skilled wing players. He scored 27 points, grabbed 12 rebounds and swatted four shots in the last matchup.
Memphis will present challenges though, specifically through excellent ball movement. They currently lead the NBA in team assists per night at 28.6 and a big part of that is due to young Memphis guard Ja Morant.
The second overall pick of the 2019 NBA Draft is having a solid sophomore effort. Morant is averaging 8.0 assists per contest to go along with 18.4 points per game and Lonzo Ball will be key in slowing him down. In the first matchup, Ball helped the Pelicans’ defense hold Morant to just two points in the fourth quarter in helping to seal the Jan. 6 win.
Other key players for the Grizzlies are center Jonas Valanciunas and guard Dillion Brooks. Valanciunas gave New Orleans plenty of problems in the first game, scoring 23 points in just 24 minutes. Steven Adams will need to prevent him from hurting the Pelicans again in this matchup.
Dillion Brooks has struggled with his shot so far this season, shooting only 31.1% from deep, which is well below a 35.1% career average and season-best 37.5%. However, given the alarming amount of open three-point shots New Orleans is granting opponents, don’t be surprised if the slumping Brooks turns things around against the Pelicans. That’s just the way it’s gone lately.
New Orleans should be desperate to stop the bleeding, wanting to avoid going winless on this road trip. One bright spot: Seven of the next nine games after Tuesday’s game will be at home, so if the Pelicans can earn a road win in Memphis, they might be able to gain some momentum for the final two weeks heading into the 2020 All-Star break.
Who: New Orleans Pelicans (11-15) at Memphis Grizzlies (11-11)
When: February 16, 7:00 p.m. Central
Where to watch: Fox Sports New Orleans, TNT
Where to listen: ESPN 100.3 FM