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Zion’s 31 points and Hart’s 27 propel Pelicans to big 144-113 victory over Grizzlies

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New Orleans owning Memphis is really a thing

Memphis Grizzlies v New Orleans Pelicans Photo by Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE via Getty Images

Apparently, the elixir for the New Orleans Pelicans is the Memphis Grizzlies basketball team.

Coming off three straight defeats to teams with losing records, the Pelicans closed out their four-game road trip by pounding the Memphis Grizzlies into near submission Tuesday evening, winning by a decisive 144-113 score.

Having beaten the Grizzlies already twice on the 2020-21 schedule — btw, the Pelicans claimed the season series and grabbed a potentially important tiebreaker with this victory, and sweeping them a year ago, it’s fair to say that New Orleans has Memphis’ number.

Perhaps the most pleasant surprise about this blowout, a huge victory was rather unexpected more than nine minutes into the contest.

The Pelicans started slowly out of the gates as Ja Morant torched the defense for a quick 10 points, and Lonzo Ball, the team’s best perimeter defender, found himself sitting on the bench after picking up two quick fouls within the first 4:09 of action in trying to stay with Memphis’ star. However, after the Grizzlies had built a first-quarter 30-19 lead, the Pelicans found their groove in large part because Zion Williamson happened.

New Orleans growing superstar began this matchup shooting 0-2 from the field with three turnovers, but after re-entering following his first rest, Zion proved invincible the rest of the way. Williamson spurred the Pelicans to finish the first frame on a 10-2 run with two powerful And-1s which seemed to ignite New Orleans’ effort.

Over the final three quarters, the Pelicans outscored the Grizzlies by 34 points (115-81). Consistently leading that smackdown were Zion and Josh Hart.

Williamson has made a regular occurrence of posting big lines (tonight: 31 points, seven rebounds, six assists and two steals), but Hart’s offensive contributions have come and gone. No such hiccups for Hart tonight, though, as he finished with 27 points, nine rebounds, six threes and two assists. As the reserve forward told Jen Hale in a postgame interview on Fox Sports New Orleans, “I finally started making shots. That was nice.”

The Pelicans’ fantastic level of activity translated in the stat sheet. They ripped a season-high 14 steals, leading to 32 fastbreak points, and had season-bests in field goal percentage (61.5%) and assists (33). In addition, they destroyed Memphis’ defense down low (70 points in the paint) and from the outside (19-38 from three-point range).

Adding to those totals magnificently was Brandon Ingram. He was perhaps a little quieter than Hart and Zion but just as important: 22 points (8-13 FGAs, 4-4 3PTA), seven assists, four rebounds, two steals and one block. B.I. did have six turnovers, but I believe his playmaking and defense more than made up for the miscues.

Off the bench, Willy Hernangomez put himself in a lot of good places, compiling a highly effective line of 14 points and eight rebounds (six offensive!) in just 19 minutes of action.

Lonzo Ball didn’t shine as much in the box score as other teammates, but his 13 points and five assists made an impact. He looked to drive when lanes were open and the team’s ball movement feels zippier when he’s playing confidently. Not surprisingly, when good Lonzo shows up, it’s reflected positively in the +/- statistic.

Although Eric Bledsoe finished with only seven points and five assists, I thought his energy was fantastic in the first half. He and Kira Lewis Jr. nearly combined for a good steal, but he did stay with his defensive assignment really well and took an important charge, too.

In postgame, Williamson credited Bledsoe with New Orleans’ intensity and defensive effort by starting the game with a strong mentality of not wanting to lose all four games on this road trip.

One thing to watch before tomorrow’s game against the Trail Blazers will be the availability of Steven Adams. He was listed as questionable to return mid-game in Memphis due to back spasms, but Stan Van Gundy informed media afterwards that New Orleans starting center could have played more than the 24 minutes he finished with if necessary.

Well, the Pelicans are headed home a winner so the road trip wasn’t a total disaster. Maybe New Orleans can ride the momentum from this lopsided win on their upcoming four-game home stand to go on another winning streak.

Either way, when’s the next time the Pelicans play Memphis again? It’s fun penciling in dominant performances.

For more Pelicans talk, subscribe to The Bird Calls podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow this author on Twitter at @OlehKosel.