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Memphis Grizzlies vs. New Orleans Pelicans: MLK Day Game Preview

A day more important than a game

New Orleans v Memphis Grizzlies Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

WHO: Memphis Grizzlies (20-22, 12-12 home) vs. New Orleans Pelicans (16-27, 8-14 away)

WHEN: 4:00 PM CT

WHERE: FedExForum in Memphis, Tennessee

HOW TO WATCH/LISTEN: TNT/Fox Sports Southeast/92.9 FM ESPN Memphis


MEMPHIS: Bruno Caboclo (Out, knee)

NEW ORLEANS: Zion Williamson (Doubtful, knee), Jrue Holiday (Questionable, elbow), Jahlil Okafor (Questionable, back), JJ Redick (Probable, hamstring)


MEMPHIS: Ja Morant, Dillon Brooks, Jae Crowder, Jaren Jackson Jr., Jonas Valanciunas

NEW ORLEANS: Lonzo Ball, J.J. Redick, Josh Hart, Brandon Ingram, Derrick Favors

The Memphis Grizzlies franchise should never again have to play a game outside of FedExForum on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

It just means too much.

Former Commissioner of the NBA David Stern, who passed away earlier this month, understood that. After the Grizzlies organization, led by then owner Michael Heisley, came to him with the idea for the MLK Jr. Day Celebration Game prior to the first one being played in 2003, he threw the weight of his office and the NBA behind it. In years where the Grizzlies were particularly bad, he pushed to make sure the game was on television. At times where market was questioned and importance of the event was not paid proper attention to by schedulers and TV executives, wrongs were eventually made right.

Because Stern knew, both by helping get the Grizzlies to Memphis in the first place and by helping establish the MLK Jr. Celebration Game as an event beyond the city, what the day means.

It means more than basketball.

It’s a chance to display the growth that has happened in the city since the fateful day where the legacy of Dr. King and the city of Memphis forever became intertwined. It’s a moment for a community to take center stage, led by an organization that leads them so well, and showcase the accomplishments of African Americans that are models of that “dream” Dr. King spoke so eloquently about through their Sports Legacy awards (this year’s honorees - Sheryl Swoopes, Doug Williams, Robert Parish and Caron Butler). It goes beyond a game, with the symposium, a National Civil Rights Museum (a co-host for all the festivities) tour, and other events in and around Memphis.

It highlights the need to memorialize what Dr. King meant to the Civil Rights Movement in this country, and in Memphis specifically, and also what it means to pursue the lofty vision of the world Dr. King dreamed of. One that is still not where we live by any stretch, but one day hopefully we will indeed inhabit. A place where, to paraphrase Dr. King, every one of us can truly be free at last.

Long live the dream.

On to the keys to the basketball game that is the main event of the weekend in Memphis.

Attack Brandon Ingram

LA Clippers v New Orleans Pelicans Photo by Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE via Getty Images

The Anthony Davis trade will almost certainly have an ESPN 30 for 30 documentary made about it some day. The Pelicans appear to have gotten a HAUL for Davis, while the Lakers appear destined for a date with the Clippers for the chance to go to the NBA Finals - something that would not be happening if the Davis deal hadn’t transpired.

As of this moment, the most valuable piece of that trade for New Orleans appears to be Brandon Ingram. He is having a career year - possibly an All-Star season - and even if a team with cap space to burn (cough MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES cough) comes calling with a max contract this summer, the Pelicans are almost certainly going to match. Ingram is averaging 25.6 points per game on 47.9% shooting and 40.1% from beyond the arc. He somewhat surprisingly improves upon those numbers on the road (50.4% overally, 42.4% from three).

It will be on Jae Crowder and other Grizzlies wings to prioritize limiting him offensively. Closing out quickly on shots, getting him uncomfortable with physicality at times, and forcing him off his spots and to reset his feet will have to be the focus. He’s playing too well to expect a complete shut down. But if Memphis wants to extend their win streak to eight, Ingram is going to have to be slowed.

The Prediction

Cleveland Cavaliers v Memphis Grizzlies Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

Be excited, Memphis. Your Grizzlies have a chance to be on the national stage (their only game on TNT all season) and are currently the hottest team in the entire NBA with a seven game win streak. They’re playing as well as anyone...but the New Orleans Pelicans are the reason the Grizzlies have the top hot streak in the Association.

New Orleans has been playing better of late themselves. In their last two games they beat Utah (the holders of the longest win streak before Memphis) and went toe to toe with the Clippers, only losing that game by a single possession. NOLA has talent, and can absolutely finish the streak if the Grizzlies aren’t prepared.

The good news? They most likely will be.

This young Memphis team plays up to the moment, at least right now they do. They have shown that with wins over Houston and those same Clippers. When the lights are bright, these Grizzlies are ready to fight. There have been no brighter lights for them to this point in the season.

Excitement is the right word for this day.

Memphis 122, New Orleans 117

Follow @sbngrizzlies