When: 6:30 p.m. local time
Where: Smoothie King Center; New Orleans, Louisiana
How to watch/listen: TNT / Bally Sports Southeast / 92.9 FM ESPN Memphis
Memphis: Jaren Jackson Jr. (questionable, foot), Desmond Payne (questionable, toe), Danny Green (outside knee), Kenneth Lofton Jr. (out, two-way transfer), Vince Williams Jr. (out, two-way transfer ), Zaire Williams (outside, patellar tendinitis)
New Orleans: Zion Williamson (questionable, ankle), EJ Liddell (out knee), Kyra Lewis Jr. (out knee)
Expected starting lines:
Memphis: Ja Morant, Jon Konchar, Dillon Brooks, Garren Jackson Jr., Stephen Adams
New Orleans: CJ McCollum, Herb Jones, Brandon Ingram, Zion Williamson, Jonas Valanciunas
So far, in the GrzNxtGen era, the Grizzlies have developed three semi-rivals. The most widespread is with Golden State Warriors. There is animosity between the two teams and they have been eliminated from the playoffs in the past two seasons.
A level below is memphis’ nascent rivalry with Minnesota Timberwolves. After a stellar playoff series a year ago, the two teams have created a fun dynamic that Grizzlies fans watched last week.
Hovering under these two teams is the New Orleans Pelicans. You might be thinking: how can you say that there is a rivalry between grizzlies and pelicans? This is fair. However, this rivalry has all the ingredients for a great rivalry.
The three primary factors for building athletic rivalry are history, pejoratives, and electrical matches. In the case of Pelicans-Grizzlies, only one of these items can be crossed out. The history of the two teams dates back to the 2019 lottery when both teams jumped to the top of the draft standings and claimed Zion Williamson and Ja Morant as their own picks. That night, the two teams, plus Williamson and Morant, connected instantly.
Two years later, the two teams made a surprise trade, essentially trading positions and picks in 2021. NBA Draft. It’s safe to say that each side is satisfied with the end of the bargain as Memphis took in Stephen Adams and youngster Zaire Williams, while New Orleans brought in Jonas Valanzinas and Trey Murphy III.
Since Morant and Williamson made their debuts in 2019, the two have only played against each other four times. Williamson is 4-0 against Morant in his career. In the past three seasons, only two of the 10 games between the Grizzlies and Pelicans have been decided in single figures. So, while the two teams have histories, there are still no memorable encounters between the two teams.
As for bad blood, I think it’s only a matter of time until both teams’ competitiveness gets the best of them. While Morant and Williamson have played AAU together and have been friendly in the past, both players know they will be compared forever, and it will only fuel the fire. It’s also no secret that the Grizzlies’ confidence and the way the team carries itself can get under the skin of opponents. I predict 2022 will be the year these teams finally embrace the rivalry that took years in the making, and tonight could be just the beginning.
With Jaren Jackson Jr. ready to start his season tonight, Memphis and New Orleans will face off with a healthy All-Star team for the first time since August 3, 2020 — part of the NBA Bubble. Tonight’s game was highly anticipated even without Jackson’s return, but with the 2022 First Team All-Defense suit, the Grizzlies-Pelicans have become must-TV. What are the keys to Morant and co. their first ever victory against Williamson?
Although he may have had a slow start this year, CJ McCollum has destroyed the Grizzlies in the past. Some of McCollum’s highest-scoring outputs came against Memphis. McCollum scored more than 25 points in three of his four games against the Grizzlies last year.
He currently averages 17.8 points on 39.1 FG% and 27.9 3PT%, along with 5.5 rebounds and 6.3 assists. His shooting percentages are the lowest of his career and the last time he scored fewer than 20 points a game was in 2014, his second year in the NBA. McCollum’s slump is not going to last. It is a professional 40% 3PT pistol and is an incredibly effective marksman.
Since being traded to New Orleans, McCollum has become more of a distributor but that doesn’t mean he can’t take over the game with his scoring prowess. To retain McCollum, the Grizzlies will likely count on Dillon Brooks. However, Morant has shown that his defense has improved a lot so it is possible that he could face the challenge of guarding McCollum.
Whoever McCollum tackles will be required to shoulder a heavy defensive load, but Brandon Ingram also offers challenges as a perimeter scorer, so Brooks will be full as Memphis’ top wing defender.
This season, New Orleans finished third in the league in points in the paint. Fifth Memphis. Tonight’s game is won in the trenches. Whichever team is able to control the interior and protect the paint will emerge victorious tonight.
Swans and trees collect points in paint in very different ways. Morant, a 6’2 guard, led the league in paint points per game last year and is seventh this season. Morant drives to the dredge and throws big tubs and hits the soft floats. Bane got inside a lot more this year, and Brooks and Brandon Clark also got points in the painted area.
The Pelicans prefer a more bruising attacking style, feeding Williamson and Valañonas inside. Williamson currently ranks second in the league in drawing points per game. While Valančiūnas can hit thirty-three midfield players, he thrives inside, getting handicaps and using his size to create easy buckets. While Adams and Santi Aldama can provide some paint protection, tonight they will outlast two of the most dominant cabin players in the league.
With that being said, what a time for Memphis to recover a first-team senior defenseman from injury. If Jackson makes his debut tonight and isn’t restricted to minutes, he can totally swing the game. JJJ is one of the best edge guards in the league, and if Memphis is going to emerge victorious tonight, it will be because of his defensive contributions.
The Grizzlies are 3-1 in primetime games this season but they’re 0-2 without Bunny, who doubts about tonight’s game. However, JJJ may return which would be massive for Memphis’ road to victory.
Williamson is doubtful and could be crippled tonight, but the Pelicans have proven they can win without their superstar. The Grizzlies have yet to beat Williamson and something tells me the streak will continue. I think New Orleans is a legitimate contender, so coming up short tonight won’t be a disappointment, especially if Memphis is without its second leading scorer.
Predicting the final score: Pelicans 112, Grizzlies 104
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