Extra Pass: Pelicans gear up for Morant, Grizzlies

Published March 8, 2022, 7:00 PMMiguel Flores

Both coming off a loss, the Pelicans and Grizzlies are raring to get back on track. Catch the game at 8:30 AM on NBA League Pass.

Are the New Orleans Pelicans actually good? In the play-in era of the NBA, they’re a 10th seed. They sport a 27-37 record, 1.5 games ahead of a Portland Trail Blazers team that gutted their roster at the trade deadline and 3.0 games ahead of the San Antonio Spurs, who are still in the middle of their youth shift.

The play-in tournament has complicated how we see the middle pack of the NBA heading into its second year of full implementation. It's delivered a couple of classic games while also giving a questionable consolation prize for mediocre teams.

The Pelicans aren’t quite mediocre. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly how to feel about a team that has a few exciting pieces now, but is still without their mercurial superstar in Zion Williamson. They’ve been playing awesomely lately, winning four straight games before an overtime loss to the Denver Nuggets last Sunday. Along that stretch, news of Williamson finally returning to New Orleans to continue rehabbing his injured foot started to circulate – a reminder that while things are great now, it could be better with Zion.

The Memphis Grizzlies, New Orleans’ opponents tomorrow, are unquestionably great. Led by Williamson’s draft batchmate Ja Morant, the Grizzlies are currently tied for second place in the West with a 44-22 record. It’s incredible to see how these teams went from preseason afterthought to possibly meeting for a playoff preview.

The next best thing

Ja Morant is the most exciting player in the league. He’s often compared to Derrick Rose because of their similar styles; flying around the court, seemingly hunting every opportunity for a highlight. Each has a unique charm that supersedes the clips they produce. They draw you in because they’re new, young, and exciting.

Like Rose, Morant has also lucked out with how their organization built around them. If MVP Rose had Joakim Noah and Luol Deng, Morant has Jaren Jackson Jr., Desmond Bane, and Steven Adams. It’s not Grit ‘N Grind, but there’s a rough-and-tumble charm to these Grizzlies. They play up to Morant’s tempo while being physical defensively.

Memphis built and earned their hype. Morant started hot, got injured, cooled off, and burst right into the current hot streak he’s on. The Grizzlies struggled at first, found their groove without Morant, then assimilated their All-Star guard seamlessly when the time came.

The Phoenix Suns have been elite, even without their starting backcourt. The Warriors have been great when healthy. The Utah Jazz, Dallas Mavericks, and Denver Nuggets have shined, but each have their own problems. Looking at the murky Western Conference landscape, is it really that farfetched to say these Grizzlies can make the Conference Finals? Maybe not. They’re definitely ahead even of their most optimistic schedules.

The Pelicans, really?

As mentioned above, the Pelicans are going to make the postseason because there are exactly 10 teams in the West actively pursuing a postseason berth.

New Orleans doubled down at the trade deadline, trading young players and draft assets for CJ McCollum. Adding the former Blazer to their core of Brandon Ingram and Jonas Valanciunas has made New Orleans a dangerous offensive team. They’ve ran teams like the Los Angeles Lakers – their play-in opponent if the season ended today – and Jazz off the floor.

When games get close, the Pelicans have great tools to eke out wins with Ingram and McCollum. Defensively, the Pelicans are bound to struggle with rookie Herb Jones being their only starter playing at an above-average level on that end. It may not matter if their short-term goal is to just make play-in this year.

For New Orleans fans suffering from every kind of bad break in sports, the consolation of having this fun team play one or two or six games in the postseason should be enough to hold them through until Zion Williamson gets back.

Grizzlies-Pelicans matchup

McCollum and Ingram have been averaging 25+ points per game since the All-Star break while Valanciunas, who’s low-key having one of the best years of his career, should relish a matchup against his former team.

The Grizzlies are in a crucial spot, racing with the Warriors for the second seed and guaranteed homecourt advantage for the first two rounds of the playoffs. Morant has scorched teams, but the Grizzlies are at their best when they’re able to flex their depth.

Look for a high-scoring game with plenty of highlights from both sides. If you don’t have League Pass, this game is definitely worth the singe-game purchase.

On NBA TV Philippines, you can catch the Los Angeles Clippers visiting the Warriors live at 11:30 AM. The Warriors have been struggling lately as health and other lineup problems have loosened their grip on the second seed. The Clippers, on the other hand, have continued to survive without their two superstars. They’re still dangerous and definitely a threat for Steph and the Warriors.