Extra Pass: Can Pelicans keep momentum going vs. Grizzlies?

Published December 31, 2022, 3:13 PMPolo Bustamante

Zion Williamson and the Pelicans hope to extend their win streak to six games tomorrow.

What’s up with the New Orleans Pelicans?

The Pelicans are tied with the Denver Nuggets for the best record in the West. But some would argue that they’re clearly the best team in the conference right now. They’re on a five-game winning run, tying the longest active streak in the conference. 

Their last win against the Philadelphia 76ers showed the keys to their recent success.

Zion Williamson has been on a tear since his return from a three-game absence. He stood toe-to-toe against Joel Embiid and got the big win. Embiid, the league’s leading scorer, had 37 points on 63 percent shooting. Williamson wasn’t far behind with 36 on nearly 70 percent from the field. This comes at the heels of a massive 43-point performance where he just overwhelmed the Minnesota Timberwolves.

It’s not just Williamson though. CJ McCollum led the Pelicans in scoring against the Sixers, dropping 42 points, built on 11 triples. This is his second 40-point game during this win streak - the last one came against the San Antonio Spurs when Williamson was out.

It’s been a total team effort for the Pelicans this season. While Williamson and McCollum are the catalysts, the rest of the team is the steady fuel that has kept this team moving forward even with all the injuries they’ve faced.

What’s up with the Memphis Grizzlies?

Remember when Ja Morant’s “fine in the West” comment? Well since he said that, they’ve lost to the Golden State Warriors and the Phoenix Suns. That came after losses to the Denver Nuggets and the Oklahoma City Thunder.

There’s a reason for Morant to be that confident though. In the past 10 games heading into this matchup against the Pelicans, the Grizzlies are the best defensive team in the league. They were riding a seven-game winning streak before their current 2-6 run in the past eight games. During their winning run, they were limiting opponents to just 103.3 points per game.

Even with their dismal record in the last eight games, the Grizzlies are still third in the West and only 1.5 games behind the top-seeded Pelicans and Nuggets. Morant has been stellar this month, putting up a 24-6-9 line in the 11 games he’s played. The team is also getting back to full strength, welcoming Desmond Bane back from injury.

Morant’s remark might have come at the wrong time. But it’s not unfounded given how they’ve been playing this season. They just need a major win against a West rival to prove his point.

Storyline to watch out for

The one player that Memphis has that can possibly slow down Williamson is Jaren Jackson, Jr. He’s fast, strong, and athletic enough to cover New Orleans’ flying tank. Unfortunately, he also can’t stay out of foul trouble. 

Jackson, Jr. is one of the best shot-blockers in the league. But that distinction comes with a huge caveat. Because he always goes up for the swat, he’s also prone to fouling players at the rim. Because of that, he ends up getting benched for long stretches which affects his flow for the rest of the game.

Can he stay out of foul trouble while trying to stop Williamson who relentlessly drives to the hoop? If he can, the Grizzlies’ defense has that extra layer of protection which will allow the perimeter defenders more leeway to harass the Pelicans. If Zion baits him into a couple of fouls early, then the Memphis defense will have a huge gap that the New Orleans offense can pick at.


In case Morant isn’t convinced yet, then this is the perfect opportunity for the Pelicans to show him that maybe he’s not so “fine” in the West. 

Williamson is playing the best basketball of his career - he’s just flattening defenses right now, getting to the rim at will. He’s a pounding headache that even the league’s best defense won’t be able to cure.

Where to watch

You can catch this battle between two up-and-coming teams in the West tomorrow live at 9:00 AM via NBA League Pass.