WHEN: 6:30 PM CT
WHERE: Smoothie King Center; New Orleans, Louisiana
HOW TO WATCH/LISTEN: TNT/Bally Sports Southeast/92.9 FM ESPN Memphis
MEMPHIS: Jaren Jackson Jr. (Questionable, foot), Desmond Bane (Doubtful, toe), Danny Green (Out, knee), Kenneth Lofton Jr. (Out, Two-Way Transfer), Vince Williams Jr. (Out, Two-Way Transfer), Ziaire Williams (Out, Patellar Tendinitis)
NEW ORLEANS: Zion Williamson (Questionable, ankle), E.J. Liddell (Out, knee), Kira Lewis Jr. (Out, knee)
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUPS:
MEMPHIS: Ja Morant, John Konchar, Dillon Brooks, Jaren Jackson Jr., Steven Adams
NEW ORLEANS: CJ McCollum, Herb Jones, Brandon Ingram, Zion Williamson, Jonas Valančiūnas
So far, in the GrzNxtGen era, the Grizzlies have developed three quasi-rivalries. The most prevalent is with the Golden State Warriors. There is bad blood between the two teams and they have eliminated each other from the playoffs in the past two seasons.
A tier below is Memphis’s budding rivalry with the Minnesota Timberwolves. After a fantastic playoff series a year ago, the two teams have established a fun dynamic that Grizzlies fans saw play out last week.
Hovering beneath these two teams is the New Orleans Pelicans. You might be thinking: how could you possibly say the Grizzlies and the Pelicans have a rivalry? That is fair. However, this matchup has all of the ingredients to make a great rivalry.
The three factors essential to building a sports rivalry are history, disdain, and electric matchups. In the case of Pelicans-Grizzlies, only one of these elements can be crossed off. The two teams have history dating back to the 2019 lottery when both teams jumped to the top of the draft order and claimed Zion Williamson and Ja Morant with their respective picks. That night, the two teams, as well as Williamson and Morant, were immediately connected.
Two years later, the teams made a surprising trade, essentially swapping centers and picks in the 2021 NBA draft. It is safe to say each side is satisfied with their end of the trade as Memphis received a reinvigorated Steven Adams and the young Ziaire Williams, while New Orleans brought in Jonas Valančiūnas and Trey Murphy III.
Since Morant and Williamson debuted in 2019, the two have only played four times against each other. Williamson is 4-0 against Morant in his career. In the past three seasons, only two of 10 games between the Grizzlies and Pelicans have been decided by single digits. So, while the two teams do have history, there have yet to be any memorable matchups between the squads.
As for bad blood, I believe it is only a matter of time until the two teams’ competitiveness gets the best of them. While Morant and Williamson played AAU together and have been friendly in the past, both players know that they will forever be compared, and this will fuel a fire. It is also no secret that the Grizzlies’ confidence and the way the team carries itself can get under opponents’ skin. I expect 2022 to be the year these teams finally embrace the rivalry that has been years in the making and tonight could be the start.
With Jaren Jackson Jr. set to make his season debut tonight, Memphis and New Orleans will face off with each team’s respective stars healthy for the first time since August 3, 2020 – part of the NBA Bubble. Tonight’s matchup was highly anticipated even without the return of Jackson, but with the 2022 First Team All-Defense star suiting up, Grizzlies-Pelicans has become must-watch TV. What are the keys to Morant and co. getting their first-ever victory against Williamson?
Shut down the “Grizz-killer”
While he may be off to a slow start this year, CJ McCollum has devastated the Grizzlies in the past. Some of McCollum’s highest-scoring outputs have come against Memphis. McCollum scored 25+ points in three of his four games against the Grizzlies last year.
He is currently averaging 17.8 points on 39.1 FG% and 27.9 3PT%, along with 5.5 rebounds and 6.3 assists. His shooting percentages are the lowest of his career and the last time he averaged under 20 points per game was in 2014, his second year in the NBA. McCollum’s slump will not last; he is a career 40% 3PT shooter and an incredibly efficient scorer.
Since being traded to New Orleans, McCollum has become more of a distributor but that does not mean he is incapable of taking over a game with his scoring prowess. To keep McCollum contained, the Grizzlies will likely rely on Dillon Brooks. However, Morant has shown that his defense is much improved so it is possible he takes on the challenge of guarding McCollum.
Whoever is matched up with McCollum, will be asked to carry a heavy defensive burden, but Brandon Ingram also presents challenges as a perimeter scorer, so Brooks will have his hands full as Memphis’s top wing defender.
Control the Paint
This season, New Orleans is third in the league in points in the paint. Memphis is fifth. Tonight’s game will be won in the trenches. Whichever team is able to control the interior and protect the paint will come away victorious tonight.
The Pelicans and the Grizzlies rack up points in the paint in very different ways. Morant, a 6’2” guard, led the league in paint points per game last year and is seventh this season. Morant drives to the bucket and throws down big dunks and hits soft floaters. Bane has gotten inside much more this year and Brooks and Brandon Clarke also rack up points in the painted area.
The Pelicans prefer a more bruising style of offense, feeding Williamson and Valančiūnas inside. Williamson is currently second in the league in paint points per game. While Valančiūnas can hit threes and mid-range jumpers, he thrives inside, getting putbacks and using his size to create easy buckets. While Adams and Santi Aldama can offer some paint protection, they will be outmatched tonight against two of the league’s most dominant interior players.
With that being said, what a time for Memphis to get a First-Team All-Defense big man back from injury. If Jackson makes his debut tonight and is not on a minutes restriction, he could completely swing the game. JJJ is one of the league’s best rim protectors and if Memphis is to emerge victorious tonight, it will be because of his defensive contributions.
The Grizzlies are 3-1 in primetime games this season but they are 0-2 without Bane, who is doubtful for tonight’s matchup. However, JJJ might be back which will be monumental for Memphis’s path to victory.
Williamson is questionable and may be hobbled tonight, but the Pelicans have proven they can win without their star. The Grizzlies are yet to beat Williamson and something tells me that streak will continue. I believe New Orleans is a legitimate contender so coming up short tonight would not be a letdown, especially if Memphis is without their second-leading scorer.
Final score prediction: Pelicans 112, Grizzlies 104
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