Game Preview: New Orleans Pelicans face injured Memphis Grizzlies on short rest

Nov 2, 2016; Memphis, TN, USA; New Orleans Pelicans forward Anthony Davis (23) handles the ball against Memphis Grizzlies forward JaMychal Green (0) during the first half at FedExForum. Mandatory Credit: Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

For once, the New Orleans Pelicans have the advantage of health over a battered Memphis Grizzlies squad. Can they take advantage on a back-to-back at home?

It’s become a winter ritual, and maybe a spring one too. The Memphis Grizzlies are the most injured team in basketball, once again. Tonight against the New Orleans Pelicans, they will be without Mike Conley, Chandler Parsons, Zach Randolph, Vince Carter, Brandan Wright, and perhaps James Ennis as well. For once, the Pelicans will have the upper hand in healthy rotation players.

Even considering the health advantage the Pelicans will possess, they cannot underestimate the talent and coaching of the Memphis Grizzlies. Led by first-year head coach David Fizdale, the Grizzlies are shooting nearly seven more three-pointers per game than they did last season. Marc Gasol has become a weapon from outside the arc and into the paint, and nearly every Grizzlies role player can shoot that shot. In fact, with Randolph out tonight, the long bomb might work itself into the Memphis gameplan even further.

Even while shooting from outside more often and making a slightly better percentage on threes (up to 33.8% from 33.1% last year even with the increased volume), the Grizzlies did not forget how to play defense. They are allowing only 104 points per 100 possessions, a mark that ranks 5th in the entire league. A team featuring a healthy Marc Gasol on the interior will waltz its way into the top ten in defensive efficiency.

Surrounding Gasol are players like Jarell Martin, JaMychal Green, and Deyonta Davis who have the athleticism and foot speed to at least give Anthony Davis trouble. Against most teams, protecting Davis’s drives to the hoop or his spot-up game has to be one or the other. The Grizzlies feature an ensemble capable of doing both. Besides the big men, guys like Tony Allen and Wade Baldwin have the physical tools to aggravate ball-handlers on the outside.

This combination of offensive versatility and defensive dominance is one that should be approached the same as any other team, even at less than full strength. The Grizzlies have stayed competitive over the past few injury-plagued years, and they expect to do so in Conley’s absence as well. The Pelicans have an opportunity to beat a battered team, but they will have to play as a disciplined, balanced team to pull it off.

Feb 1, 2016; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Pelicans forward Anthony Davis (23) and Memphis Grizzlies center Marc Gasol (33) look on from the court during the second quarter at the Smoothie King Center. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Who, When, Where and How to Watch

When and Where: The game will be played at 7:00 p.m. CST in New Orleans.

How To Watch: The game will be broadcast on Fox Sports New Orleans and NBA League Pass.

Injuries: 

New OrleansQuincy Pondexter (Left Knee), Tyreke Evans (Right Knee) and Dante Cunningham (Right Fibula Fracture) are all OUT.

Los Angeles: Vince Carter (Hip), Zach Randolph (Personal), Brandan Wright (Ankle), Mike Conley (Back), and Chandler Parsons (Knee) are all OUT.  James Ennis (Calf) is QUESTIONABLE.

Probable Starting Lineups:

New Orleans: PG Jrue Holiday, SG Tim Frazier, SF Solomon Hill, PF Anthony Davis, C Omer Asik

Memphis: PG Andrew Harrison, SG Tony Allen, SF Troy Williams, PF JaMychal Green, C Marc Gasol

Other Players to Watch: 

New Orleans: E’Twaun MooreBuddy Hield, Terrence Jones, Anthony Brown and Langston Galloway

Memphis: Jarell Martin, Wade Baldwin IV, Troy Daniels, Toney Douglas (!) and Deyonta Davis

What’s Next for the Pelicans?

The New Orleans Pelicans will stay at home through Thursday, when they will play the Philadelphia 76ers at the Smoothie King Center. Tip is scheduled for 7:00 p.m. CST.

Nov 30, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Memphis Grizzlies center Marc Gasol (33) reacts during their loss against the Toronto Raptors at Air Canada Centre. The Raptors beat the Grizzlies 120-105. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

Can anyone on the Pelicans stop Marc Gasol?

In the three games since point guard Mike Conley’s back injury forced him out of the lineup, Gasol has posted some incredible statistical lines: 18 points and 8 rebounds last Wednesday in Toronto; 25 points and 5 blocks against an imposing Orlando front line last Thursday night; 19 points and 9 rebounds on Saturday against the Lakers.

He is shooting 43% from three-point range, finally taking that extra step backward on a jumper that has always been smooth. Scoring is probably where he’ll look first in New Orleans; per NBA.com, Gasol’s scoring rate sits at 20.7 per game on the road compared to just 16.8 per game at home. The veteran consistency on a young team means Gasol handles that scoring load during the more exhausting parts of the schedule.

This is all alarming to hear as a Pelicans follower who understands the shortcomings of this team. The Pelicans do not possess an interior stopper; Anthony Davis occasionally masquerades as one late in games or as a shot-blocker in spurts, but the burden he shoulders on offense makes it impossible for him to also be the only useful big man defender on a winning team. Help must come from somewhere, but as the Pelicans are currently constructed, there is no ideal candidate to take the Gasol assignment.

We might see Alexis Ajinca tonight, who has a similar build and length to Gasol’s. Memphis doesn’t love to push the pace as much as New Orleans, so the slower style may play to Ajinca’s advantage. He can muck things up, but Omer Asik might be helpless against the suave Point Center looks Gasol will give him. Gasol scores down low, sure, but he is far from a traditional post player. Even before he started shooting threes, he did most of his damage at the elbow or in the triple-threat.

My suggestion: Let Gasol get his, force him to be the focal point of the Grizzlies’ offense and defense with so much of his team injured, and make sure you beat the other guys. Davis can outscore Gasol even on an off night, and the Pelicans’ role players are capable of at least staying with the bottom of the Grizzlies’ depth chart.

Unless Memphis has a second consecutive hot shooting night (Troy Daniels made 6/12 attempts on Saturday), that should be a recipe for contention against the shorthanded Grizzlies.

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