WHERE: Smoothie King Center New Orleans, Louisana
HOW TO WATCH: Fox Sports Southeast/92.9 FM ESPN Memphis
MEMPHIS- Bruno Caboclo (Out, Left Knee Soreness); Grayson Allen (Out, Hip);, De’Anthony Melton (Day-to-Day, Hand). Jaren Jackson Jr. (Out, Suspension), Marko Guduric (Out, Suspension)
New Orleans- Darius Miller (Out, Achilles), Kenrich Williams (Day-to-Day, Back)
MEMPHIS- Ja Morant, Dillon Brooks, Jae Crowder, Brandon Clarke, Jonas Valanciunas
NEW Orleans- Jrue Holiday, Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram, Derrick Favors, Lonzo Ball
Anyone up for a fun exercise?
This should only take a minute, so it will be worth your time.
Via a pen and paper or a computer, write or type the top players currently in the NBA that you would most like to see oppose each other in person.
Alright, Done? Now think of the duo of Ja Morant and Zion Williamson and compare them to your list. Where would they rank?
I know, right?
I would be willing to bet that, for most, comparing the duo of Ja and Zion to their original list is surprising. Rather or not you redo your list, it likely is eye-opening that you could convince yourself that two rookies who have never faced each other before could be more exciting than match-ups between some of the game’s best stars. Thankfully, the wait to make this face-off a reality is over. While there are other intriguing games on tonight’s schedule, it seems most eyes will be fixated on the Big Easy.
Without a doubt, the night of May 14th, 2019 unexpectedly yet significantly improved the present and future of both the Memphis and New Orleans franchises. However, that was just the beginning of the summer for two rosters that experienced complete overhauls in similar fashion. Both teams traded franchise icons (Anthony Davis and Mike Conley) to Western Conference Contenders. As part of the return packages in those trades, both franchises added more relevant pieces to their present and future cores in the 2019 draft (Brandon Clarke in Memphis, Jaxson Hayes and Nickeil Alexander-Walker in New Orleans). Each team also received current NBA talent that has played a major role in making the playoffs a realistic outcome for both teams this season.
As was the case Wednesday night, this game means a bit more than most other games for the Grizzlies. Despite being five games up in the standings on New Orelans, the Grizzlies have a much harder schedule the rest of the season. Furthermore, with the return of Williamson, the Pelicans are now arguably the most talented roster of any team realistically aiming for the Grizzlies 8th seed. With a result that makes a two game difference in the standings on the line, a win becomes highly important.
Unfortunately, while the Pelicans are getting back to full health, the Grizzlies continue to have a bout of bad lock with their roster. De’Anthony Melton has missed the past two games with a hand injury, and now Jaren Jackson Jr. and Marko Guduric are likely unavailable due to suspensions stemming from a wild end of the game Wednesday night in New York. Though the details around the whole situation against the Knicks are frustrating, the NBA has rules it must enforce. As a result, the Grizzlies are going to be short handed this evening.
While New Orleans will continue to monitor Williamson’s minutes, he certainly makes them a much more dangerous team. Along with newly named first-time All-Star Brandon Ingram and Jrue Holiday, New Orleans arguably features one of the top ten trios in the NBA. LHowever, a supporting cast of J.J. Redick, Derrick Favors, Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart, Hayes, and Walker-Alexander allows the Pelicans to alternate between many diverse and dangerous lineups. Do not be fooled by their 19-29 record, as the Pelicans could easily have a successful stretch such as the one the Grizzlies are currently having by the end of the year.
Despite all eyes obviously being on Morant and Williamson, Memphis will likely need another 2019 rookie to step up to have a significant chance to win. Here are a few keys to victories for Memphis in this pivotal contest:
Clarke and Anderson Must Deliver: With Jackson Jr. unavailable, either Kyle Anderson or Brandon Clarke will get the start tonight. Regardless of who starts, both will get extended minutes. Each player will need to be at the top of their game offensively. Clarke will need to feature his impressive shot selection and efficiency, while Anderson be needed for effective ball movement and as a second facilitator, especially to help Morant and Dillon Brooks find scoring opportunities.
However, the biggest impact needed from this duo is on the defensive end. The intelligence and instinct of Anderson alongside the athleticism and awareness of Clarke has proven to be quite disruptive against opposing offenses. The size and skill of Ingram and Williamson will be hard to stop, but Anderson and Clarke are the Grizzlies best options to at least contain it. Though this likely will be a high scoring affair, if Memphis can find a way to get a few key stops or turnovers along the way, it could be the key reason they steal a victory.
Paying Attention to Perimeter: The Pelicans are third in the NBA in threes made per game and fourth in 3PFG%. The Grizzlies are 24th in threes allowed per game and 25th in opponent 3PFG%. The Pelicans ability from beyond the arc is simply a significant advantage, and was the main reason they won the last match-up in Memphis (15 threes in first half alone.) Memphis must communicate and stay in position to contest looks and hopefully create a few turnovers.
Despite the difference in records, the Pelicans are a significant favorite tonight. Their depth and talent are going to be a tall task for the Grizzlies to overcome. If Memphis can produce over thirty assists, make 15 or more threes on 40% shooting, and cause 15 or more turnovers, they would be in a very good position to pull the upset. However, if Memphis struggles, especially on defense, a win will be hard to achieve. Multiple Grizzlies will likely need to have their best games of the season tonight for the Grizzlies to have an undefeated road trip.
Of course, in the end. all of this adds up to one logical outcome: Ja Drops 40 or more, creates the season’s best poster shot with a dunk on Zion, and scores the last 12 points of the night for Memphis in a last minute comeback victory.
Final Score: Grizzlies 123 Pelicans 120