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McCollum rediscovering shooting touch would be timely with Zion questionable to play against Grizzlies

Memphis is expected to welcome back Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. against the Pelicans

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New Orleans Pelicans v Memphis Grizzlies Photo by Justin Ford/Getty Images

One of the favorite regular season matchups for many living across the region is here!

The New Orleans Pelicans will host their Southwest Division rival, the Memphis Grizzlies, on Tuesday evening inside the Smoothie King Center.

Coming off a 119-106 win over the Rockets, the Pelicans have not posted consecutive victories since opening the 2022-23 schedule with W’s against the Nets and Hornets.

On the flip side, no other Southwest team remains unbeaten within division play outside of New Orleans, and this time a year ago, of course, the Pelicans were 1-12 overall, getting ridiculed by everyone with an opinion.

We know how the rest of that story unfolded, so being 7-6 is the standings shouldn’t mean much one way or the other. What’s important, though, is how the team is trending. Outside of a nine-minute stretch against the Rockets, Saturday’s performance was good.

“I thought we let our foot off the gas,” Willie Green said after Monday’s practice. “We had a chance to sort of dominate the game and we did that for three and a half quarters. But our mindset, midway through the third quarter, we were up 17, 18 and we lose that quarter by one point, those are areas where we have to be better.

“Nothing against Houston, but you play against better teams and that game is harder to win. So that’s something we’ll clean up and something we’ll continue to look at.”

The biggest topic right now has to be CJ McCollum’s shooting struggles. Over the last four games, he is averaging 9.5 points, 6.5 assists and 3.0 turnovers. The jumper simply isn’t dropping, as evidenced by a 27.3 field goal percentage, a 16.7 3-point percentage and a 57.1 free throw percentage.

However, there’s a lot of trust on the team that he’ll turn things around.

“CJ will be fine,” Green said. “A part of it is that he’s been under the weather, so he’s been fighting that. But throughout the course of a season, there’s times that you go through this as a player and CJ will fight his way out of it.”

“I don’t think I can shoot any worse than I’ve been shooting,” McCollum said with a smile. “If you look at my career how I’ve played, how I’ve shot historically, I think I’m due for some leveling out on open shots. But I think it’s more so taking advantage of opportunities, picking my spots. I think I got some pretty good looks the last couple of games, very makable shots, but I just didn’t make them.”

McCollum rediscovering his shooting touch would be timely. Not only is Memphis a stout opponent, New Orleans could find themselves short-handed. Zion Williamson was listed as questionable with a right ankle, foot sprain on Monday’s injury report.

The Grizzlies, on the other hand, are arriving on a bit of a roll amid some good injury-related news. After beginning the season with a 4-3 record, Memphis has reeled off victories in five of their last seven contests.

Ja Morant, who missed Sunday’s loss to the Wizards with left ankle soreness, is expected to take the court against the Pelicans. While Desmond Bane is doubtful with right toe soreness, the Grizzlies could also get a sizable boost from the return of Jaren Jackson Jr.

Triple J has diligently been working to make his season debut after suffering a stress fracture in his right foot last June. He was upgraded to questionable for a first time on Memphis’ injury report, but TNT’s Chris Haynes believes Jackson will play.

Regardless of whether the Grizzlies get Bane and/or Jackson back, the Pelicans will have their hands full with Morant. Memphis is 9-3 when he’s played, losing only to the Mavericks, Jazz and Celtics.

The 23-year-old star is averaging 28.8 points, 6.0 rebounds and 7.0 assists per game. He’s a blur in transition and largely responsible for Memphis consistently being one of the best fast break teams since the Grizzlies made him the second overall selection in the 2019 NBA draft.

“He’s dynamic in the open floor with space,” Green said. “He’s always pushing in transition. He’s shooting the 3-ball better, at least it looks like. He’s a tough cover, but we have to bring a physical mindset when he’s on the floor. We can’t let him get easy baskets going to the hole and just have to make it tough for him on the defensive end.”

It must be mentioned that the Grizzlies have dominated the series of late. They’ve smoked the Pelicans in their last three matchups, winning by a combined 60 points. That’s a far cry of how their meetings previously resulted.

If Williamson misses the contest, it’ll be interesting to see who replaces him in the starting lineup. Jackson and Steven Adams form a long and strong front court. On paper, Larry Nance Jr. makes sense, but there probably exists a lot of pushback in removing him from his backup role in which he’s thrived. Trey Murphy or Naji Marshall then perhaps? How about Jaxson Hayes as a dark-horse candidate?

The Pelicans possess enough firepower to compete no matter the status of a nominee for the most recent Western Conference Player of the Week. In addition to McCollum striving to bounce back from a string of bad performances, Brandon Ingram and Jonas Valanciunas could help pick up the scoring slack, alongside a bench that’s typically reliable.

At least that’s the way the oddsmakers see it, making New Orleans a 1.5-point favorite at the time of this writing.

The New Orleans Pelicans will tip off against the Memphis Grizzlies at 6:30 p.m CST. All nationally televised NBA games can be watched on SlingTV.

Who: New Orleans Pelicans (7-6) vs Memphis Grizzlies (9-5)

When: November 14, 2022, 6:30 p.m. CT

Where to watch: TNT

Where to listen: WRNO 99.5

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.