Memphis Grizzlies vs New Orleans Pelicans: MLK Day sees Griz on the rise

Mike Conley emerges from the pack. - Andy Lyons

The Grizzlies square off against the Pelicans in a battle of two teams heading opposite directions. Can the improved Grizzlies take advantage of an injury-riddled Pelicans roster to pull out their first division win?

2013/2014 NBA Season
vs
20-19 (11-12 home)
Won 5
15-24 (6-14 road)
Lost 8
January 20th, 2014
FedEx Forum in Memphis, TN
4:00 PM CDT
Fox SportsSouth/ 92.9 FM ESPN
Possible Starters
Mike Conley PG Brian Roberts
Courtney Lee SG Eric Gordon
Tayshaun Prince SF Al-Farouq Aminu
Zach Randolph PF Anthony Davis
Marc Gasol C Greg Stiemsma
2013/14 Advanced Stats
92.5 (30th) Pace 95.1 (20th)
102.5 (18th) OEff 105.1 (9th)
104.0 (18th) DEff 107.2 (29th)
Injury Report

New Orleans - Jason Smith (Out, knee) Jrue Holiday (Out, fractured tibia) Ryan Anderson (Out, back)

Memphis- Quincy Pondexter (Out, Foot) Tony Allen (Out, Hand)

Opponent's Blog: The Bird Writes

Key Matchups

Zach Randolph vs. Anthony Davis - Anthony Davis is having an excellent year and is likely to get his points and rebounds. Not many teams have been able to do much about that. He is also, once again, a long, athletic shot blocker. With Greg Stiemsma now (probably) starting at center, Zach will potentially be facing two long, athletic shot blockers again. Z-Bo struggled mightily against similar defenders in Milwaukee a few days ago (2-10, 6 points, 4 rebounds). Marc was a non-factor against the Bucks that night though, and if he shows the same form he showed against the Kings, he should help take the pressure off Zach by forcing the defenders to divide their focus.

Courtney Lee vs. Eric Gordon - Eric Gordon is having a solid season, scoring 16 points per game while shooting 44% from the field, 40% from 3 and 81% from the line. He has put up 19 and 25 points against the Grizzlies in their two previous matchups so Courtney Lee's defensive prowess will be tested. Gordon is coming off a rough game against Golden State, scoring 8 points on 3-17 from the field and 0-6 from 3. Gordon usually seems to bounce back after an off game, but if Lee can hold him in check, it will go a long way toward a Grizzlies win.

Winning the wins - On paper, the Grizzlies should have a big advantage at point guard, center, and with our bench bigs. If we can get those 'wins' on paper to translate to winning those matchups on the court, the Grizzlies should be in a position to win the game.

0-for-the-Division

The Grizzlies are 0-9 against the division this season, a statistic that will need to turn around at least to an extent by season's end if the Grizzlies want to make some noise in the playoffs. 2 of those losses have come to the Pelicans.

Defense trending up

A big reason for the Grizzlies' recent success is the return of Grizzlies-style defense. Since January 3rd, the Grizzlies have quietly moved from 24th in the league in defensive efficiency to 18th on the season. Offensive efficiency has also improved, though not as markedly, from 20th to 18th. One interesting thing to note is that has been done without Tony Allen, meaning the team's defense has improved without our purported defensive stopper in the lineup. Courtney Lee and James Johnson both have contributed, as well as Marc's return to the lineup and his presence in the paint. It will be interesting to watch how that's handled going forward.

If only I could turn back time

The Pelicans would very much like to go back to Friday, December 13. They had beaten the Grizzlies for the second time this season, 104-98, and were 1 game over .500 at 11-10. Since then, they are an injury-riddled 4-14 and enter tonight's game at 15-24.

We will rock you

So how did Nawlins get to 2-0 against the Grizzlies?

In game 1 on November 6th, New Orleans won handily by beating Memphis at FedEx Forum on possessions, winning the turnover battle 18-13 and the rebounding battle 39-29. Shooting statistics were very similar, they simply had many more chances than the Grizzlies did. I was at this game, and this was a bellwether game early in the season when team energy and hustle was lacking. At one point, Marc punched the scorer's table in frustration as the fans booed the effort of the team walking off the court.

In game 2 on December 13th, New Orleans won 104-98 after a comeback effort from the Grizzlies - down by 19 early in the 4th quarter - fell short. Statistics show the Grizzlies winning the possession battle and shooting similarly overall but the Pelicans scored more from the line and the arc than the Grizzlies did. Jon Leuer played 30 minutes with Ryan Anderson on the floor and finished with 19 points and 8 rebounds. With Anderson and Jason Smith both out and Marc back, it's unlikely Leuer gets many minutes tonight unless it's in garbage time.

Aches and pains

New Orleans is 0-8 without Ryan Anderson who, until he suffered a herniated disc in a win over the Celtics January 3rd, was having a career year - 19.8 PPG, 44% FG, 41% 3PT, 95% FT.

The Pellies will also be without their starting point guard, Jrue Holiday, who has missed the past 6 games and is out indefinitely with a stress fracture of his right tibia.

The latest blow is Jason Smith, their starting center and Grizzly-killer in seasons past, who suffered a right knee injury and reportedly will undergo knee surgery this week.

Fear the Brow

Anthony Davis has had no sophomore slump - quite the opposite, in fact. After finishing a solid rookie season with 13.5 PPG, 8.2 RPG, 1.2 STL, 1.8 BLK and 51.6% shooting, Davis has turned in All-Star numbers - 20.1/10.4/1.4/2.9 while improving to 53.2% from the field. In the last 4 games - 3 close losses to the Spurs, Mavericks, and Rockets, and a 10 point loss to the Warriors - Davis has been outstanding, averaging 26.3 points and 12.3 rebounds while shooting 58% from the floor. If he can stay healthy, I think Davis is a legitimate star player.

Joe's neat-o fact-o-the-day

The Grizzlies are the only team in the NBA without a win against their division, and only the Bobcats and 76ers have been held to 1. It sure would be nice to get a division win.

Bottom Line

With the injuries New Orleans has suffered, the Grizzlies hold an advantage in several regards. The Pelicans are a dangerous team though, Davis is hot, and they have already beaten the Grizzlies twice. I expect a hard-fought game, but this is one the Grizzlies should win on paper.

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