The New Orleans Pelicans head to Memphis tonight for a key game against a division rival they’re battling with in the standings.
The Western Conference is incredibly balanced with two games separating the first seed from the tenth. The Pels are currently third, so a win tonight could catapult them to the top of the West and a loss could drop them to ninth.
The Pels managed the Grizzlies in their last game despite being without Zion Williamson, who should be ready to play tonight.
New Orleans relied on a rare barrage of 3-pointers to win last game against Memphis, shooting 47.4 percent from long range for the game-changing game. With CJ McCollum and Trey Murphy III out of this one, the New Orleans Pelicans might have to take a different approach.
These are the keys to getting a big win tonight against the Grizzlies in Memphis.
New Orleans Pelicans vs. Memphis Grizzlies: 3 keys to the game
The Pels need to get to the line
In the last meeting, the Grizzlies made 13 more free throws than the Pelicans, so they were able to stay in the game even though New Orleans was pulling the lights.
Getting Zion back should help, as he’s averaging 7.2 tries per game, though it’s a career low. Jaren Jackson Jr. will likely be tasked with defending Zion early on, so New Orleans needs to feed Zion early and try to get some fouls on Memphis.
For a team that lives in the paint, the New Orleans Pelicans shoot a surprisingly low number of free throws, ranking only 17th in the league in attempts. They can’t count on 47 percent shooting from 3-point range on the road, so they can’t let Memphis easily win the battle at the free throw line tonight.
New Orleans needs to win the battle of points in the paint
Both teams eat in the paint, as Memphis and New Orleans are fourth and fifth in paint points per game, respectively.
This is another battle the Grizzlies won in the first meeting as they were +10 so this and the free throws really got them through a tough night of shooting from distance. Again, getting Zion back will obviously help in this department, and we’ll likely see a different game plan with him in the lineup tonight.
This game will be won or lost in the paint, as the best 3-point shooters from each team will be on the sidelines.
Pelicans need to stop everyone not named Ja Morant
Morant is tough to stop, though the Pelicans might have an easier time defending him with Jose Alvarado in the starting lineup and guarding him for most of the game.
Morant is probably going to get his, as he did in the last game, scoring 36 points after a monstrous first half. The key is to not let Morant get everyone else going, as he only had four assists last game and the Pels were able to wear him down as the game progressed.
The Pelicans have to let Alvarado do his thing and not help shooters or cutters. They need to play it straight, stay home, and have them take hard, contested shots. You can live with Morant scoring 30 as long as he doesn’t do it with 12 assists and getting open shots for his shooters all night.
Memphis hasn’t been shooting the 3-pointer well as a team lately, so the Pelicans need to play honest defense and not give them anything easy.
This would be a huge win for the New Orleans Pelicans down the road and it could look a lot different than the last time these two teams played.