Who: Memphis Grizzlies (37-26) at New Orleans Pelicans (26-37)
When: Wednesday, March 12th, 7:00 PM CST
Where: Smoothie King Center, New Orleans, LA
Watch and Listen: Sportsouth, 92.9 FM, 680 AM
Discuss: 3SOB on Twitter / 3SOB Forum, Grizzlies Message Boards
In the event that you tuned out during the All-Star break, as many stressed-out or disinterested fans did, you might think that I’m messing around with the arena name in the “Where” section above — especially with Spring Break season just around the corner. But I assure you, Smoothie King Center is a very real thing. Now that that’s out of the way, let’s address the fact that this, the fourth and final game against New Orleans, is a dangerous game for the Grizzlies, who have to date failed to dispatch these division foes this season. The Pelicans may be far enough on the outskirts of the standings to not pose a direct threat to the Grizzlies’ playoff contention, but they have certainly had the good guys’ number thus far.
Mike Conley vs Brian Roberts
His name may not garner heavy billing, but Brian Roberts has actually been pretty productive for the Pelicans since assuming the starting point guard duties in place of the injured Jrue Holiday. As a starter, Roberts is averaging a respectable 11.9 points per contest, while dishing out 3.9 assists and putting up a solid 40.5% from the arc. Where he has struggled, however, is on the defensive end. According to 82games.com, opposing point guards are lighting him up, posting a 20.3 PER against him. His saving grace tonight, in that regard, may be tired legs for Mr. Conley, but this conventional logic has not held water in practice yet, on the year. Conley has believe it or not been at his best this year on the second game of back-to-backs, averaging 19.9 points on 48.1% shooting from the field, 44.4% shooting from downtown, and getting to the line at a clip of 4.7 attempts per game — all in excess of his seasonal averages.
Courtney Lee vs Eric Gordon
I haven’t done the math on it, but as a fantasy basketball owner of Eric Gordon, I would have to imagine that he ranks among the higher variance scorers in the league. Take a look at his scoring totals over his last six games: 21, 2, 10, 28, 12, 10. It’s been a rocky year for Gordon, statistically speaking, but from a realistic standpoint, it’s an absolute victory for the guy to have played in 60 of the Pelicans’ 63 games to date this year. Courtney Lee has some positive momentum coming into this one, having gone ballistic in the 3rd quarter last night, as a nice bounce-back from his cold stretch to start the month of March.
Tayshaun Prince vs Tyreke Evans
Tayshaun Prince was solid last night, but this just might not be the matchup for him. Tyreke Evans has seen a continued downturn in his overall raw production numbers this season, but tonight presents a matchup in which his quickness could pose some serious trouble for the Grizzlies. That is, until the Grizz counter by bringing Tony Allen off the bench. Sure, I’m living in a bit of a hypothetical right now, but it is not inconceivable that Dave Joerger takes the opportunity tonight to experiment with playing Lee and Allen together for extended stretches.
Advantage: New Orleans
Zach Randolph vs Anthony Davis
It seems like Zach Randolph matchups are simply always the most interesting ones to preview, doesn’t it? It’s especially fun when Zbo is coming off of an 18 and 12 performance against his former team to snap a “flu-like symptom” induced slump of sorts. In his last outing against the Pellies, Randolph spouted off to the tune of 23 points and 20 boards, but was countered by Anthony Davis’s 27 point, 10 rebound, 8 stock (4 steals, 4 blocks) effort in a Pelicans victory. The scary thing is that lines like this are not out of the ordinary for “The Brow,” who is emerging as a serious force to be reckoned with for years to come in the NBA and the Southwest division.
Advantage: New Orleans
Marc Gasol vs Alexis Ajinca
How about some rejoice for the return of Marc Gasol? Sure, he’s been “back” since January, but the real Marc as we know him is finally creeping into the picture just in time for the playoff push. His defense was almost immediately re-introduced upon his return to the lineup, but that offense is shaping around quite nicely, isn’t it? Last night’s 19 point, 9 rebound, 7 assist line is far more in line with what we’ve come to expect out of the All-Star big man, who is now averaging 15.8 points, 8.4 rebounds, 4.0 assists, and 2.0 blocks over his last five games. The offense is beginning to funnel through him more prominently again, which is always a good thing for Memphis. Lining up across from him is Alexis Ajinca, who has nudged his way into the Pelicans’ starting lineup over the course of the year, and if nothing else is a very big body to assist Anthony Davis with the dirty work.
The Memphis bench has been an absolute joy to watch as this season has trucked on. The early season injuries were an absolute disappointment, but if there is any silver lining to them, it’s the fact that guys like Nick Calathes, James Johnson, Ed Davis, Jon Leuer, and Kosta Koufos were given the opportunity to all step in at times and play more minutes than they generally would have under normal circumstances. It’s a tremendous luxury to have guys like Davis and Leuer available to be called upon if need be, even though their number(s) may not be chosen on a given night. Then of course, you’ve got Tony Allen and Mike Miller who respectively have me parading around the house cheering for in just about every game of late. Shoddy bench play has been a culprit for lack of Grizzly success in two of the three meetings with the Pellies this year, with the lone bright spot being Leuer’s 19 point outing in the second game of the set. As for the Pelicans’ bench, its has been kind of exhausted due to the injuries of Holiday and Ryan Anderson hacking away at its depth, but Anthony Morrow is a bonafide gunner in this league, and Austin Rivers has been well improved of late, so that’s something to keep an eye on for sure.