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Memphis Grizzlies vs. New Orleans Pelicans Game Preview

Time to try to cool some Pelican vibes

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NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at New Orleans Pelicans Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

WHO: Memphis Grizzlies (40-18, 20-9 road) vs. New Orleans Pelicans (23-34, 13-15 home)

WHEN: 7:00 PM CT

WHERE: Smoothie King Center in New Orleans, Louisiana

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

INJURY REPORT:

MEMPHIS: Ja Morant (Questionable, ankle), Yves Pons (Out, thigh), Xavier Tillman Sr. (Out, thigh), Dillon Brooks (Out, ankle)

NEW ORLEANS: Zion Williamson (Out, foot), Kira Lewis Jr. (Out, knee), Larry Nance Jr. (Out, knee)

PROJECTED STARTING LINEUPS:

MEMPHIS: Ja Morant, Desmond Bane, Ziaire Williams, Jaren Jackson Jr., Steven Adams

NEW ORLEANS: Devonte Graham, CJ McCollum, Brandon Ingram, Herb Jones, Jonas Valanciunas


The Memphis Grizzlies are two games from the All-Star Break, an opportunity for much-needed rest and also a chance for the NBA universe to enjoy the rising star that is Desmond Bane and the supernova that is Ja Morant on the national stage. But this team has proven that they are nearly impervious to the dreaded “look ahead” loss, at least since Christmas where they are a league-best 21-4. That is good news for Memphis, since they’re closing out the pre All-Star slate with a back to back starting tonight against a team that is better than their record indicates in the New Orleans Pelicans.

NOLA started this season drastically bad at 1-12, leading most to leave them for dead - especially considering the long-term injury to Zion Williamson. Instead, the Pelicans are 22-22 since that miserable start and have played better basketball. Last night New Orleans lit up the Raptors, who had been 9-1 in their previous 10 outings, by 30. Former Grizzly Jonas Valanciunas has had another successful season - perhaps the best of his career - and he is joined in New Orleans by the continuously growing as a scorer Brandon Ingram. Add in one of this season’s biggest surprises in Herb Jones and the recent major trade of the Pelicans to acquire noted Grizz Killer CJ McCollum? Look over this Pelicans team at your own risk. Thy are improving, and their confidence is growing.

Keys to tonight’s game.

Let Bane and Morant lead the way

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at Memphis Grizzlies Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

Grizzlies fans will remember the offensive acumen of Jonas Valanciunas - he was vitally important to the early evolutionary stages of the Memphis offense. They will also remember the immense amounts of drop coverage that Jonas would play defensively, and how that would be taken advantage of at times (not all his fault). Now, while the Pelicans should be better offensively as Devonte’ Graham and CJ McCollum get more accustomed to one another, it seems like NOLA has done little to help Valanciunas with a defensive partner in the pick and roll.

Enter the best young back court in the NBA.

Before Ja Morant and Desmond Bane shine on the All-Star stage, they’re going to get opportunity to really confuse New Orleans’ defensive schemes. No, Valanciunas is not the only reason the Memphis defense had issues at times - especially in the playoffs - and no, all of the NOLA defensive system is not flawed. Herb Jones is already a near-elite defensive player as a rookie, and Valanciunas is arguably their 2nd or 3rd most consistent defensive player. But the limitations on that end of Graham and McCollum are going to put Jones and Valanciunas in a bind. The creation off the dribble opportunities off of pick and rolls will be there, as will other sets within the free-flowing Grizzlies offense. Bane and Morant make that work - and they will get plenty of clean looks against this NOLA back court.

Maximize the bench

NBA: Los Angeles Clippers at Memphis Grizzlies Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

Leading up to and through the trade deadline, the Pelicans moved on from Josh Hart and Nickeil-Alexander Walker, their current 5th and 6th in minutes played leaders on the roster. That is a pretty decent-sized hole in their rotation, and while the Pelicans clearly think they can fill those voids even beyond McCollum’s arrival the meshing of talent can sometimes be tricky, especially against teams that already have such chemistry established.

Know any squads with immaculate vibes that are playing well currently?

The “new-look” Pelicans bench of Jose Alvarado, Gary Clark, Jaxson Hayes, Tony Snell, and old Grizzlies friend Garrett Temple is not comparable in terms of depth to Memphis. Tyus Jones, De’Anthony Melton, Kyle Anderson, Brandon Clarke, John Konchar...they have far much more run together as a unit both this season and beyond. The Grizzlies should be able to get out and run, rebound, facilitate and swing the ball on offense...basically whatever they want to do. That’s not to say this group without NAW won’t eventually get better. They played remarkably well last night - especially Hayes and Temple.

But for now? There is a lot of work that needs to be done compared to the intact Grizzlies bench.

The prediction

The Grizzlies are favored by 3.5 points entering this contest despite the Pelicans beating the Raptors big last night in New Orleans. NOLA’s offense looked good, completing over 25 assists through three quarters with McCollum having his best game for the Pelicans yet. But they also executed nicely on the defensive end, with Toronto shooting particularly bad from the floor.

The Grizzlies aren’t the Raptors. But this is a Pelicans team believing their luck is improving. If Memphis starts this game the way they finished against Charlotte, this will be a loss. If they can play to their standard for a full 48 minutes? Memphis will win easily.

Here’s to an in-the-middle expectation.

Memphis 115, New Orleans 110

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