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Pelicans shootaround update presented by Entergy: New Orleans seeks much-needed road win in Memphis

Jul 04, 2021 12:22PM



The Smoothie King Center version of the Pelicans has won five of the last seven home games, locking down on defense by holding three straight guests (Phoenix, Memphis, Houston) to under 110 points. The traveling version of the Pelicans has lost six of the last seven away games, searching for defensive answers while allowing Chicago, Dallas and Detroit to play some of their best offense of the entire 2020-21 campaign. Why the difference? Josh Hart can’t pinpoint an answer. “I’m not totally sure what it is,” Hart said after Tuesday’s morning shootaround of the discrepancy between the Pelicans’ performances. “But I know we’ve got to fix it.” It should help that Hart, who’s played the most minutes of any New Orleans reserve this season by a wide margin, will be in uniform again in Memphis. After being listed on the injury report as probable due to low back spasms, his status was changed this morning to available and will play. When he checks into the game at FedEx Forum tonight, it will be Hart’s 82nd consecutive, dating back to him closing 2019-20 with 55 straight appearances. “I want to play every game, every season,” Hart said. “Unfortunately I’ve had some injuries and wasn’t able to do those things my first three years. But I want to make sure people know I’m someone they can depend on, on an every-night basis. I’ll fight through bumps and bruises and go out there and help the team in any way I can. I definitely take pride in that. Hopefully I can keep extending that streak.” … Other notes after the Pelicans held shootaround in snowy Tennessee: A native of Washington, D.C., Hart smiled when he was asked by a media member who covers the Grizzlies about the wintry weather that greeted the Pelicans when they arrived in Memphis. Hart  and his teammates spent Monday inside their hotel, with many local spots closing due to the conditions. “You can’t really do anything anyway,” Hart said, referring to COVID-related protocols that prevent NBA players from venturing around cities this season. “We were just kicking it at the hotel… but for me, I’m from the East Coast, so I like snow.

Seeing snow was fun for me. I was in (Los Angeles) for two years and I’ve been in New Orleans for two years – I don’t really get too much snow. So for me, it was cool.” … There’s a theory that the major increase in three-point shooting percentage around the NBA is related to there being no fans or limited fans in many arenas. Hart said for him personally, the crowd does not affect his shooting: “For certain people, it changes things, putting a little bit of pressure on you. For me, I don’t really care. At Villanova, Coach (Jay) Wright always talked to us about playing for each other, not really playing for the crowd. I don’t care if there are 10 people there or 20,000. (But) for some people, (having fans) might (affect) them.” Memphis scouting report Offensive efficiency rank: 18 (110.7) Defensive efficiency rank: 12 (110.4) Streak: Won 1 Go-to guy: Ja Morant is the No. 1 option for Memphis, but the top scorer for the Grizzlies tends to rotate between Morant, Jonas Valanciunas, Dillon Brooks and various others. During New Orleans’ Feb. 6 victory over Memphis, Valanciunas returned from an extended layoff with a bang, scoring a team-best 23 points in only 24 minutes. Oddly, despite being Memphis’ leading scorer this season (18.4 ppg), Morant has only led the Grizzlies in points three times and not once since a Jan. 16 win over Philadelphia. He’s been held in check so far through four career games against New Orleans, shooting just 36 percent from the field and 20 percent on three-pointers. On the rise: The Grizzlies have numerous promising players in their early 20s, but some of them are currently sidelined, such as Jaren Jackson Jr.

(knee) and Desmond Bane (personal reasons). Second-year pro Brandon Clarke first made his mark vs. New Orleans in summer league, helping the Grizzlies eliminate the Pelicans in the 2019 tournament semifinals. In “real” competition, Clarke has proven to be an active presence in the paint, averaging 12.4 points and 5.9 rebounds in 76 career games, despite coming off the bench 59 times. Previous game starting lineups NEW ORLEANS (11-15) Sunday loss at Detroit Lonzo Ball, Eric Bledsoe, Brandon Ingram, Zion Williamson, Steven Adams Notes: This group is 10-12, starting 14 of the past 15 games together. … Stan Van Gundy indicated after Sunday’s defeat that he was not ruling out shifting his rotation, noting, “I’m not saying we will make changes, (but) I don’t think we can, with no thought, just put the same guys out there.” MEMPHIS (11-11) Sunday win at Sacramento Ja Morant, Grayson Allen, Dillon Brooks, Kyle Anderson, Jonas Valanciunas Notes: This group is 2-3, starting the first three games of 2020-21, as well as the two most recent contests. … Ten Grizzlies players have started at least once this season, including eight combined starts by rookies Bane and Xavier Tillman. … Between injuries to key players and issues related to NBA health and safety protocols, it’s near miraculous that the Grizzlies have only used seven different starting lineups (by comparison, the relatively healthy Pelicans have used five). Pelicans keys to victory DON’T LET THE GOOD TIMES ROLL FROM 3 The three ball has been spoiling Mardi Gras lately for Crescent City basketball fans. Detroit “only” made 17 three-pointers Sunday, an improvement of sorts from the 25 treys New Orleans allowed in both previous games of this road trip at Chicago and Dallas. But the Pelicans need to make an enormous leap in this area after allowing combined 67/127 three-point accuracy (53 percent) on what’s been an 0-3 excursion. PARADE (TO THE FOUL LINE) To help New Orleans set its defense and stop being in chase mode so frequently, it might help if the Pelicans can earn plenty of free throws at FedEx Forum. The Pelicans rank fourth in the NBA in free throw attempts per game (24.9) and have been consistent in getting to the charity stripe lately, shooting between 21 and 29 for a dozen consecutive games. PROTECT THE BALL LIKE IT’S KING CAKE New Orleans only committed 10 turnovers vs. Memphis 10 days ago, a vital aspect of a 118-109 home victory that featured a fourth-quarter comeback. The Pelicans have not let Morant get into the open floor much in four head-to-head meetings during the lightning-quick point guard’s brief NBA career.

Steven Buchanan

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