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Pelicans can clinch 9th in West by beating Grizzlies today

Could New Orleans’ bench prove to be a difference-maker?

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

Since the All-Star break, the New Orleans Pelicans appear to be one of the best teams on paper.

A 13-8 record is quite solid, and the .619 winning percentage sits 12th in the NBA. For their achieved positive results, a spot in the play-tournament has been secured which will be played on Wednesday (April 13) at 8:30 p.m.

However, things are much more interesting underneath the hood, providing hope that the upcoming postseason run will consist of more than a single game.

Both the offense (118.0 ORTG) and defense (110.6 DRTG) rank 6th-best during the post-All-Star stretch. Only the Celtics (+12.0) and Grizzlies (+8.4) sport a higher net rating than the Pels’ +7.5.

No one is rebounding the ball at a stronger clip than New Orleans (53.2 REB%). No one is scoring more points off turnovers (20.7 points). And the Pelicans should be applauded for the amount of damage being inflicted in transition (16.8 fast break points — 3rd), on second chances (18.0 points — 2nd) and inside the paint (52.4 points — 5th).

On the other side of the floor, they’re holding opponents to much lower averages in these important categories.

The preferred starting lineup (when fully healthy: CJ McCollum, Brandon Ingram, Herb Jones, Jaxson Hayes and Jonas Valanciunas) has played well together overall (+8.2 net rating) but has found a really nice groove after the All-Star break (+15.1 net rating).

That places the Pelicans starters inside the top 15 among other lineups across the league which have spent at least 50 minutes together. (By the way, please take a gander at the fivesome sitting third on the list.)

However, let’s not forget that the reserves also deserve their flowers. They’ve made immense strides as a group since the start of this campaign.

Month Points FG% 3PT% Steals +/-
October 22.7 (30) 40.3% (24) 30.2% (25) 1.9 (26) -4.5(27)
November 33.0 (16) 41.2% (21) 31.7% (18) 3.3 (6) -2.2 (25)
December 31.4 (19) 40.1% (28) 30.0% (25) 2.4 (18) -3.1 (27)
January 29.4 (25) 41.4% (26) 26.9% (30) 3.1 (9) -1.4 (22)
February 35.0 (19) 48.9% (4) 36.6% (10) 3.5 (8) +3.3 (5)
March 39.2 (11) 45.4% (21) 34.0% (19) 4.4 (2) +2.4 (5)
April 38.8 (13) 47.0% (16) 34.0% (17) 3.8 (5) +4.1 (6)

Since the start of February, the bench is contributing 37.6 points on respectable shooting (46.7 FG%, 35.0 3PT%). Previously, the numbers were much lower (30.1 points on 40.9% from the field and 29.7% from deep).

The emergence of Jose Alvarado, improvements by Trey Murphy and Naji Marshall, and addition of Larry Nance Jr. have greatly impacted winning. There’s been timely contributions from Devonte’ Graham and Willy Hernangomez as well.

There’s no question that Willie Green has more options which he can rely on now than he did during the first several months of the season.

“It’s extremely important for our group that our bench comes in and plays uptempo, keeps the game simple and makes the right plays,” Green said after Thursday’s 127-94 victory over the Trail Blazers. “It was beautiful to watch.”

The bench will be crucial if the Pelicans are to beat the Grizzlies later today. Memphis has enjoyed consistent production from their reserves all season. Case in point, they have compiled a 20-4 record when Ja Morant’s been sidelined.

There is a chance, though, the owners of the second-best record in the West could welcome their star point guard back against New Orleans.

After winning their first matchup of the season, the Pelicans have lost two straight to the Grizzlies. Getting back on track against an opponent many consider New Orleans’ biggest rival is not to be overlooked, but Saturday’s game carries even more weight.

If the Pels win, they’ll guarantee themselves of hosting the play-in game this coming Wednesday inside the Smoothie King Center.

That needs to happen. Let’s Geaux!

Who: New Orleans Pelicans (36-44) at Memphis Grizzlies (55-25)

When: April 9, 2022, 5:00 p.m.

Where to watch: Bally Sports New Orleans, NBA TV, League Pass

Where to listen: ESPN 100.3 FM

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.