The New Orleans Pelicans head into Memphis tonight for a key game against a division rival that they are fighting in the standings.
The Western Conference is incredibly balanced with two games separating the 1st seed from the 10th. The Pels are currently third, so a win tonight could catapult them to the top of the West and a loss could drop them down to 9th.
The Pels handled the Grizzlies in their last meeting even though they were without Zion Williamson, who should be ready to go tonight.
New Orleans relied on a rare barrage of 3-point shots to win the last game against Memphis, hitting 47.4 percent of their attempts from long range, which was the difference in the game. With CJ McCollum and Trey Murphy III out for this one, the New Orleans Pelicans might have to take a different approach.
Here 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 matchup the Grizzlies shot 13 more free throws than the Pelicans, which is how they were able to stay in the game even though New Orleans was shooting the lights out.
Getting Zion back should help, as he is averaging 7.2 attempts per game, though that is the lowest of his career. Jaren Jackson Jr. will likely be tasked with defending Zion in the beginning, so New Orleans needs to feed Zion early and try to pick up some fouls on Memphis.
For a team that lives in the paint, the New Orleans Pelicans shoot a surprisingly low number of free throws, as they are just 17th in the league in attempts. They can’t count on shooting 47 percent from 3-point range on the road, so they can’t let Memphis handily win the battle at the free throw line tonight.
New Orleans needs to win the battle of points in the paint
Both of these teams eat in the paint, as Memphis and New Orleans are 4th and 5th in points in the paint per game, respectively.
This is another battle the Grizzlies won in the first matchup, as they were +10, so this and free throws really carried them through a tough night shooting from distance. Again, getting Zion back will obviously help in this department, and we will 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 for each team will be on the sidelines.
The Pelicans have 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 marking him for most of the game.
Morant is probably going to get his, as he did in the last meeting, scoring 36 points after a monster first half. The key is not letting Morant get everyone else going, as he had just four assists in the last game and the Pels were able to wear him down as the game went on.
The Pelicans have to let Alvarado do his thing and not help off shooters or cutters. They need to play it straight up, stay at home and make them take tough, contested shots. You can live with Morant scoring 30 as long as he doesn’t do it with 12 assists and get open shots for their shooters all night.
Memphis has not been shooting the 3-point shot well as a team of late, so the Pelicans need to play honest defense and not give them any easy ones.
This would be a big win for the New Orleans Pelicans on the road and could look much different than the last time these two teams played.