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5 Questions with The Bird Writes

Preston Ellis with The Bird Writes discusses tonights matchup and the Pelicans woeful season.

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at New Orleans Pelicans Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

The Memphis Grizzlies has a huge Southwest division matchup tonight against the New Orleans Pelicans. Behind the strong play between Jrue Holiday and Anthony Davis, the Grizzlies will have a battle on their hands. Preston Ellis one of the associate editors of The Bird Writes, talks about the upcoming game and the Pelicans woes.

This is the Grizzlies first matchup against the New Orleans Pelicans. What differences have you seen from this Pelicans team since Demarcus Cousins left?

DeMarcus Cousins feels like a distant memory at this point. Cousins’ last game was nearly one year ago, January 26th, 2018 against the Houston Rockets when he famously chased his own missed free-throw into the corner causing the unthinkable in the big man’s contract year.

Since, the Pelicans have blown off the doors in pace. The Pelicans have always been fast. With Cousins, the team ranked seventh, finished the last 20 games of the season as the team’s fastest, and is currently ranked third with over half a dozen different starting lineups.

The Pelicans continue struggling to find a signal caller with Elfrid Payton on the shelf with a broken finger. The team has waffled between Wesley Johnson, Solomon Hill, Julius Randle, and Ian Clark in the starting lineup before finally settling on Tim Frazier.

The Pelicans have been very good with Frazier in the lineup in a small sample size. In just five games, the lineup of Frazier - Holiday - Hill - Randle - AD has a net rating of 41.9 (fourth in NBA), with an offensive rating of 136.8 (also fourth), and a defensive rating of 94.9.

Back to the talking point, the most definable difference has been the play of First-Team All-NBA Defender, Jrue Holiday. At 20 points, nine assists and four rebounds, Jrue Holiday is playing like a top-20 player, and providing Anthony Davis with the All-Star sidekick he lost when Boogie went down that Friday night in January.

Anthony Davis is killing it this year averaging a double double and closing in on triple doubles. Does he pose a problem with the current Grizzlies in the post like Jaren Jackson Jr., JaMyachal Green or Marc Gasol?

Anthony Davis gives problems to anyone, especially when his jumper is falling, and it has been lately. When he has the confidence to body into defenders and drift back into his 5-10 foot fadeaway, there isn’t a defender in the NBA who can stop him.

With that being said, JaMychal Green has given Davis great trouble in the past. He did a terrific job in last season’s opener until exiting with his untimely injury. The Pelicans will hope Gasol gets the assignment early and often. Davis has struggled against big men this season thus far, but has also shied away from contact due to a variety of injuries (ankle, shoulder). But Davis looks healthy now, and Gasol can’t hope to match him in the paint or in the mid-range game. Should the Grizz trap with a double-team, Davis can torch them by hitting Holiday/Frazier running to the basket. AD is facilitating at a rate never seen before in his career with ten games of six assists or more, well above the total for his career.

Defensively Gasol can give Davis trouble with his physicality, but the Pelicans will most likely match up Mirotic and Randle with the big man on that end.

The Pelicans have had a less than desirable season with injures and setbacks. Going into the game with the Grizzlies what strategy does the team need in order to win?

Get out early. The Pelicans have struggled with one of the worst defenses in the first half to one of the best in the second. Much of it is injury, as well as lineup tinkering, and above all, effort. However, in a small sample size the Pelicans have enjoyed some success, especially with the lineup of Holiday - Miller - Hill - Randle - AD, which ranks fourth in the NBA at 75.9.

But the Pelicans do play from behind far too often, allowing 77 first half points to the Clippers just this past Monday. It’s become an all-too common theme, playing from behind.

”It’s getting old.” - Julius Randle

If the Grizzlies can jump ahead early by attacking the paint and offensive boards, as well as creating turnovers on the defensive end, they can force the Pelicans to stare at an up-hill battle all night long. And they will need to, because locked in Jrue Holiday and Anthony Davis form the best two-man defensive tandom in the NBA.

What matchups are you looking forward to in the Pelicans—Grizzlies game?

If you answer anything other than Mike Conley and Jrue Holiday, you’re not doing this right. Conley is always the player Pelicans’ fans hoped that Jrue Holiday could grow into. Now, at the peak of his powers, it’s finally time to place the two on the scale and see just how they measure against one another. Holiday generally takes a team’s best perimeter threat at pretty much any position (Durant, Antetokoumnpo), but it’s hard to imagine he’ll draw any assignment other than Conley. So, does Conley still have it?

It’ll also be interesting to see who Gentry starts at power forward. Randle has been absolutely exceptional lately, and his brand of bully ball could make an example of young JJJ, who is playing like a dark-horse candidate for Rookie of the Year, especially on the defensive end. Or, will he choose to run with Mirotic and force JJJ out of the paint and onto the perimeter where some of his most enviable talents in rim protection can be negated?

The Pelicans are 11th in the Western Conference and Anthony Davis needs help. What type of players does this team need the most?

The Pelicans need depth at every position, save power forward. The Pelicans need a secondary facilitator on the bench, they need depth at the wing, and they need a rim protecting presence off the bench. With Payton shelved, the Pelicans were forced to play NBA afterthought Tim Frazier with the starting unit, further depleting their bench. Frank Jackson has been sent to the G-League, Clark has been unplayable, and the Pelicans recently signed former Grizz, Andrew Harrison, to a two-way contract, and he may even see some time against his former squad.

At the wing position, Solomon Hill, Darius Miller and Wes Johnson have split duties. Hill has been less than a catastrophe over the past week, but he also played his way out of the rotation just one month ago. Johnson took ownership of the starting position for two weeks, but recently it’s been Miller who has gone into double-digits in three consecutive games after doing so only four times this season. Getting Payton and Niko back will give the Pelicans one of the best six-man units in the NBA, but question marks abound behind them.

The Grizzlies will take on the New Orleans Pelicans on December 7 at the Fed Ex Fourm. The start time is at 7:00pm.

Follow @sbnGrizzlies for more updates.