Setting the Stage
In the NBA Western Conference’s brutal Southwest Division, nothing comes easy. That’ll be the case on Saturday night when the 2nd place Grizzlies (44-17) visit the New Orleans Pelicans (33-29). For the Pelicans, things are a bit more serious with one game separating them from the streaking Oklahoma City Thunder and the West’s final playoff spot. Both teams suffered a bit of a letdown in their previous game and look to get back on track tonight at 6 P.M. CST.
The Pelicans dropped what appeared to be an easy win against the visiting Boston Celtics, something that is unaffordable at this stage of their season. The same was nearly true for the Grizzlies, who had to overcome a late 10 point deficit to defeat the Lakers at the Fedex Forum. Neither team played particularly well and tonight’s matchup will be interesting to see how they both respond.
Tale of the Tape
Before yesterday’s upset, the Pelicans had won 6 out of 7 and were making a strong push for that coveted playoff position. Anthony Davis returned from injury just recently and appears to be back at full strength, as he finished with 29 points and 14 rebounds. Their success tonight clearly depends on his performance and whether or not his teammates can handle the ball against a stout Grizzlies defense.
On the other side of the court, Memphis also limps into this game having struggled over the past week or so against otherwise lesser opponents. After a season primarily free of players in suits and ties, illness and injury caught up with the Grizz recently, and that trend continued last night. Star point guard Mike Conley laced up against Los Angeles game despite the negative impacts from illness, and his struggles were evident. Sharpshooting veteran Vince Carter has finally returned from his lengthy injury battle but was unproductive, going 0 for 3 from deep. Getting back into the groove while also potentially resting the team’s aging roster will be an interesting challenge for head coach Dave Joerger. There’s no doubt that Memphis remains one of the NBA’s elite teams, but the team has to finish the season strong if they have hopes of playing title contender come playoff season.
That’s A Wrap
Las Vegas currently has Memphis as a 1½ point favorite on the road, but they will need to shoot the ball much better tonight if they hope to win again. Against the Lakers, Memphis made ONE three pointer all game long. That came out to a team shooting percentage of 9.1% from beyond the arc. Needless to say, that just will not win many games, especially against a New Orleans team that shoot their 3s at a rate of nearly 40%. Getting Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph to work down low will, as always, be a determining factor in how well Memphis plays. They escaped with a win last night in large part by getting to the charity stripe and shooting 33 free throws to LA’s 9. It’s going to be a close one tonight and in those cases the home team, especially when they’re as hot as New Orleans has been, usually come away victorious- despite the fact that Memphis is undoubtedly an overall higher caliber squad.
Prediction: New Orleans 98, Memphis 97