A look at three key numbers related to Saturday’s game at the Smoothie King Center between Memphis and New Orleans (8 p.m. Central, Fox Sports New Orleans, 100.3 FM):
12: New Orleans rank in three-point percentage among the 30 NBA teams since the Jan. 27 start of a recent five-game homestand. The Pelicans were at or near the bottom of the league in perimeter accuracy for an extended stretch this season, but they appear to be warming up while winning four of the past six games, including beating Milwaukee, Phoenix and Indiana. New Orleans is shooting 39.1 percent over the past 10 days, after a rate of just 33.2 through Jan. 26, which placed the Pelicans 28th in the NBA. Among the players who’ve taken a high volume of recent three-pointers, Lonzo Ball has been the best shooter, knocking down 46.8 percent during that timeframe, at 22/47. Josh Hart (9/21), Brandon Ingram (18/45) and Eric Bledsoe (18/45) are also at 40 percent-plus since the club opened a handful of consecutive Smoothie King Center tilts by beating Washington. The trend has also carried over to a few players who don’t fire often from deep, including Zion Williamson (3/6) and Kira Lewis Jr. (2/3). In limited action, JJ Redick has gone 6/12 while appearing in three of the six games. As hot as the Pelicans have been lately, Memphis has actually shot threes even better, ranking fifth in the NBA since Jan. 27. The Grizzlies have made 42.4 percent of their long balls during that span, albeit in a small sample of just four games.
3: Winning streak by New Orleans in head-to-head games against Memphis, including a 3-0 sweep last season that featured victories in three different states (Louisiana, Tennessee and Florida, the latter during the summer NBA restart). The Pelicans were dominant while facing the Grizzlies in 2019-20, winning each encounter by a double-digit margin, topped by a 28-point rout in the Smoothie King Center. A significant key for New Orleans was holding Grizzlies standout point guard Ja Morant to just 36 percent shooting (20 percent from three-point range), far below his career 48 percent (and 33 percent on treys). Saturday’s game marks the only time Memphis will visit New Orleans this season, with the other two meetings taking place at FedEx Forum (Feb. 16 and a yet-to-be-scheduled second-half game).
2: Postponed Pelicans games against Southwest Division opponents in 2020-21, as well as the number of games they’ve played within the division. Beyond the weirdness and unprecedented nature of this NBA season, it’s been a confounding start for one of sports’ most traditionally competitive divisions, making it difficult to get a read on the handful of franchises that comprise the Southwest. Not only have teams like Memphis and Dallas been severely impacted by COVID-related absences, but Houston traded perennial All-Star guard James Harden in mid-January. Partly as a result, no team is more than two games over .500, with perhaps the most stable roster, San Antonio, leading the way at 12-10, currently a half game ahead of Memphis (9-8) and Houston (11-10). The Pelicans, who are just 2.5 games behind the Spurs, have barely seen their division rivals in person this winter, beating San Antonio on Dec. 27 and losing to Houston on Jan. 30, their only two Southwest games played so far. If all goes as planned (and scheduled), New Orleans will get much more acquainted with the group soon, matching up against the Grizzlies (twice), Rockets and Mavericks over the next 10 days.
Previous game starting lineups
Thursday loss vs. Houston
Ja Morant, Dillon Brooks, Kyle Anderson, Brandon Clarke, Xavier Tillman
Notes: This group is 3-2, having started each of the last five games. Those are the first five starts of rookie Tillman’s NBA career. … There’s a chance that this will not be Saturday’s starting lineup for the Grizzlies, because Clarke (right calf soreness) is listed as questionable to play, while center Jonas Valanciunas no longer appears on the injury report, after sitting out five consecutive games due to health and safety protocols. … Only Brooks and Anderson have started all 17 Memphis games this season. Eight different Grizzlies have started at least four times, including guards Tyus Jones and Grayson Allen.
NEW ORLEANS (9-12)
Friday win at Indiana
Lonzo Ball, Eric Bledsoe, Brandon Ingram, Zion Williamson, Steven Adams
Notes: This group is 8-9, including winning four of its past five games together. During a 4-2 recent stretch for New Orleans overall, Adams missed Monday’s home loss vs. Sacramento. … This quintet has logged 254 minutes, five times as much playing time as any other Pelicans lineup. The same five – but with Nickeil Alexander-Walker replacing Ball – has logged the next-most at 43 minutes.
Pelicans keys to victory
STAY HOT FROM THE ARC
As noted above, New Orleans is starting to percolate from downtown, a welcome change from early in 2020-21. Friday’s 13/25 performance on three-pointers at Indiana marked the Pelicans’ best percentage (52.0) in a game this season. Ball drained each of his final four attempts, making clutch hoops in the fourth quarter of a 114-113 victory.
PROTECT THE BALL ON OFFENSE
The Pelicans have been up and down this week in terms of turnovers, only committing seven vs. Phoenix on Wednesday, but then nearly ruining their chances of earning a quality road win by coughing up 20 in Bankers Life Fieldhouse last night. New Orleans can’t afford to let Morant and the Grizzlies feast on mistakes by turning them into transition scores at the other end.
STOP THE BALL ON DEFENSE
There are many very good starting point guards in the NBA, and New Orleans has faced several of them lately, such as John Wall, De’Aaron Fox, Chris Paul and Malcolm Brogdon during a recent stretch. The biggest problems defensively came against Fox, who used quickness to rack up a career-high 43 points and beat New Orleans. Morant is a similarly fleet-footed floor general who can do major damage off the dribble and in the paint.