The New Orleans Pelicans hope to make a push for a playoff spot now that they have their entire starting lineup healthy.
If they’re going to succeed, they have to take advantage of games against teams between them and the top eight spots in the Western Conference.
One such game comes Friday night when the 12th-place Pelicans host the eighth-place Memphis Grizzlies. New Orleans is five games behind the Grizzlies after Memphis’ 127-106 victory at New York on Wednesday.
The Pelicans received a huge boost last week when No. 1 overall draft pick Zion Williamson made his debut after recovering from knee surgery. He has played well in each of his four games and New Orleans got big games from Williamson, Brandon Ingram and Jrue Holiday together for the first time in a 125-111 victory at Cleveland on Tuesday.
Holiday scored 28, Ingram had 24 and Williamson 14 points to go with nine rebounds while playing a season-high 30 minutes.
“I thought Jrue was terrific,” Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry told reporters after the game. “I thought Brandon started the game exactly as we needed for him to start. He hadn’t had many opportunities in the last couple of games, but I thought with the speed that we played with and the ball movement we had, we created some things for him.”
The Pelicans threatened the break the game open numerous times in the second half, but Cleveland got within eight with more than seven minutes remaining.
“Even when we got the big lead (22 points), they got it to single digits again,” Gentry said. “We’ve got to do a better job, ourselves, of being in that situation and being able to close out games. We should’ve been in the situation where our bench players should’ve been able to finish that game and we didn’t have to play guys the extra four or five minutes that we did.”
Memphis has an exciting rookie of its own in guard Ja Morant, who was selected right after Williamson. Morant has been a key factor in the Grizzlies being a surprise playoff contender.
Morant had 18 points and 10 assists and Dillon Brooks scored 27 to lead Memphis to its fourth consecutive victory Wednesday night.
“It’s not always points. It’s not always assists,” Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins said of Morant’s contributions. “He was a difference maker. He did a heck of a job — had some good deflections, stuff that might not even show up on the box score. He came up with some key buckets in the fourth as well. Overall huge impact on the game.”
Memphis completed a back-to-back set that began with a 104-96 home victory against Denver. The victory against the Knicks improved the Grizzlies to .500 (24-24) for the first time since they were 18-18 on Dec. 31, 2018.
“Great win by our guys — back to back,” Jenkins said. “Hard-fought game. Overall for the most part of a really solid win by our guys.”
Memphis has been one of the hottest teams in the NBA of late, winning 11 of 13, but it saw its seven-game winning streak end in a 126-116 home loss against New Orleans on Jan. 20 in the Pelicans’ final game before Williamson’s debut.
–Field Level Media