The last time the New Orleans Pelicans played at home against a physical basketball team, the results were not good.
The Washington Wizards, led by their big front line, knocked the Pelicans off their rhythm, according to coach Monty Williams, in beating the Pelicans on Monday at the Smoothie King Center.
With the Pelicans (17-18) coming off a bad road loss against the Charlotte Hornets, who were without their best player in center Al Jefferson, they now have to steel themselves for perhaps the most physical team in the NBA, the Memphis Grizzlies (25-10). The teams meet Friday.
Williams says there’s a difference between the Wizards and the Grizzlies.
“The Wizards have bigger guys across the board,” Williams said. “Even though Memphis is big, they still play a West style. That doesn’t take away from their physicality. They have some guys who are pretty thick down there.”
That, of course, would be center Marc Gasol and power forward Zach Randolph. However, Randolph has missed the past nine games with a knee injury. Memphis lost three in a row without Randolph before bouncing back to win four of five before Wednesday night’s loss at Atlanta, which has the best record in the Eastern Conference.
It would be the Pelicans’ luck that Randolph, who last played on Dec. 19, likely will return for this game. He has practiced the past two days, and his status has been upgraded to questionable.
“They haven’t had Zach, but they’re still pretty good with (point guard Mike) Conley and Gasol, and their bench is pretty deep,” Williams said. “They’re efficient on offense, and I just think that’s from the continuity and having all those guys together for a while.”
Conley, one of the more underrated players in the league, is having a career season. He is averaging 18.1 points and 46.8 percent shooting, both career highs, along with 44.2 percent on 3-point attempts. He has become more of an offensive threat, scoring at least 30 points in three games in December. He had three such games in his previous seven NBA seasons.
The game will feature the Nos. 1 versus 2 teams in the league in scoring in the lane, the Pelicans averaging 47.4 points and the Grizzlies 46.7. However, New Orleans was outscored 42-38 by Washington, and Charlotte matched them with 40.
That was in a bitter loss in which the Pelicans were outscored 57-46 in the second half and blew a 13-point third-quarter lead.
“That was a tough loss, especially the way we played in the first half and to come back and play in that second half the way we did and not really move the ball — one pass, shot; two passes, shot,” said Pelicans All-Star power forward Anthony Davis, who had 32 points, 14 rebounds and four blocked shots. “Before, we were swinging the ball and really hurting them.”
The Pelicans hurt the Grizzlies last season by winning three of four games between two teams battling injuries. However, the Grizzlies won the first game this season 93-81 on Nov. 3 in Memphis. New Orleans eased ahead 45-44 early in the third quarter. However, a 12-0 run gave the Grizzlies a 60-48 lead, and they were in control the rest of the game.
A proven way for the Pelicans to beat Memphis is to get out on the fast break and run Gasol and Randolph. That didn’t happen in the season’s first meeting.
“That’s what we try to do against every team,” Davis said. “In the first game, we didn’t get out and run like that, so it was tough. We we’re playing against their defenses and started shooting poorly.”
Memphis, meanwhile, executed in its trademark fashion.
While teams such as the Golden State Warriors have made a big splash in the Western Conference thus far in the season, the Grizzlies quietly have the best record in the stacked Southwest Division and are third in the Western Conference playoff race. They began the season with 11 consecutive wins against Western teams, tying a record that hadn’t been accomplished in 20 years. A model of consistency, the Grizzlies are 11-5 on the road, including 7-2 versus the West.
For the third consecutive week, Davis remained first among Western Conference front-court players in the fans’ All-Star balloting. The fans pick the starters. He has 922,381 votes, nearly doubling the next West front-court player, the Clippers’ Blake Griffin (490,786). Gasol is third with 476,660. Davis remained third behind Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (971,299) and Golden State point guard Stephen Curry (958,014). … The Pelicans worked on player development Thursday, partly to clean up some things with each player and partly to give their legs a break. … The Pelicans lead the league in points in the paint but are 28th in opponents’ scoring in the lane, surrendering 46.7 points per game.