The Grizzlies have lost the last two games in a row, they have won a couple this past week and a half or so, but that should not derail the tank train too much. They still have a shot at a number one pick, but first they finish out the season strong.
Today’s guest for Five Questions is Preston Ellis of The Bird Writes, who gives us an idea of what the Grizzlies can expect in the absence of DeMarcus Cousins, the young guys that are making an impact for the Pelicans, and if the Grizzlies can pull out a win.
The Pelicans have had four losses in a row, whats the cause of the losing streak?
There have been a variety of factors, the strongest of which would be their strength of the schedule. The Pelicans have faced a pretty favorable row of opponents since losing DeMarcus Cousins to a torn Achilles on January 26th in what was the Pelicans biggest victory of the season against the Houston Rockets. Since then, we have had difficult targeting a signature win in their 16-13 slate of wins and losses since.
In the previous four games, the Pelicans have had opportunities to take down three of their opponents (CLE, POR, OKC, not HOU so much), but what failed them late was what made them special earlier in the season: Clutch play.
The Pelicans were 17-4 in games decided by five points or less, and loss all three such games against those four opponents.
In addition, the Pelicans’ Anthony Davis suffered a nasty ankle injury. Alvin Gentry said he would probably have held AD out under different circumstances, but every game matters in this rigorous schedule. The Pelicans also need a more aggressive Jrue Holiday offensively, and consistency from their role players.
DeMarcus Cousins was scoring 25 points a game, how have the Pelicans been able to replace his production?
It’s taken a village. In his absence the Pelicans have given a great amount of minutes to Cheick Diallo, Emeka Okafor and former Bull Nikola Mirotic, who was acquired in a trade with the Bulls in early February.
Plus, with the return of Solomon Hill, the Pelicans have been able to put E’Twaun Moore back at his more comfortable bench scoring position. Ian Clark could be classified as their sixth man, as he is a bright spot every other night. AD was scoring 27 per game with Boogie and is scoring 29 without him. So too, Jrue was scoring 19 and is scoring 23 without him. The difference has been the Pelicans newly strengthened bench.
Will the Pelicans be able to hold on for the last playoff spot in the Western Conference?
Yes, though things are getting dicey with Denver’s thrilling victory over the Bucks last night. Denver holds the tie breaker, so the Pelicans can not afford to falter against Memphis and Phoenix. The Pelicans will then hope for some luck from GSW, who will have nothing to play for, and the Clippers, who could potentially be out of contention by the time they match up.
Lucky for the Pelicans, the Nuggets and Wolves should cannibalize each other, with two remaining games to be played. But the Pelicans will need to win at least one game, maybe two, against GSW, LAC or SAS on closing night.
How are young guys Darius Miller and Ian Clark fitting into the system and filling roles?
Darius Miller has not been good lately, and he’s been getting a lot of crunch time minutes. He has great size for his position, and it allows Alvin Gentry to put him into spots matching up with bigger wing defenders, and even Steven Adams for large periods of time.
He is also the Pelicans very best shooter. The problem has been his aggressiveness. He doesn’t have it. Too often he’ll have an open shot and swing it to a less successful shooter (Rondo). Too often he’ll get run off the three point line, into the paint and will pass on the open floater. He has not posted a positive net rating since the first week of March, but is lethal from deep when he does let it go.
Ian Clark has been an excellent addition. Fully capable of scoring 14-18 points in his limited role, he also has the speed and awareness to outplay Chris Paul on both ends of the court. The problem has been consistency. He doesn’t recognize when his shot isn’t falling and doesn’t make an offense better when he struggles to drain. He can disappear on occasion as well, but more often than not, he has been a boon for the bench.
The Pelicans traded for Nikola Mirotic this season, has that been a positive trade for the team?
No. It was initially. hough his three point shot has been a disaster since joining the Pelicans, he is an active defender and a solid rebounder. Early on in his time, he made up for his failing stroke by driving to the basket and drawing contact. However, Mirotic has begun settling for contested jump shots, and his numbers get worse each game. Gentry has begun to lose confidence in him. Once closing games at 35 minutes, he is now settling closer to 20.
Bonus Question: What’s your prediction for the Pelicans and Grizzlies game?
The Pelicans will win, and it will not come down to the final minute. The Pelicans can’t afford to screw around here, and they will be playing in front of a sold out crowd in New Orleans. Anthony Davis is due for a bounce back performance, and should feast on Jarrell Martin and Deyonta Davis once JaMychal Green leaves the floor. Marc Gasol should not play more than 25-30 minutes. It will be up to the Pelicans to stop the hungry young Dillon and Marshon Brooks, as well as Wayne Selden and Kobi Simmons. If the Pelicans were to lose this game, it would be disastrous for their playoff hopes, and would put the Grizzlies into a three way tie with the Hawks and Magic in the Tankathon race. This outcome should not be difficult to predict.