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Grizzlies in New Orleans

Back in November, the New Orleans Hornets might have completely dismissed the possibility of the Memphis Grizzlies catching them in the standings. If someone were to tell the Hornets that they would be tied with the Grizzlies in the Western Conference playoff race on April 1, they likely would chalk it up as some sort of April Fools’ joke.

And who could blame them? The Hornets stormed out of the gate with an 11-1 start, while the Grizzlies sputtered to 4-8 by mid-November.

But tonight in New Orleans, the Grizzlies have a chance to make that seemingly improbable scenario a reality. If the Grizzlies are to play the ultimate prank on the Hornets, they’ll have to continue to play with the same team-first mentality that has been consistent throughout their late march to the playoffs. Here are some other keys to tonight’s game:

April, Come She Will
The Grizzlies open the final month of the NBA’s regular season tonight, and if the last seven years are any indication, they’ll do so with a win. Memphis is 6-1 to open the month of April since 2003-04, the first season in which they qualified for the NBA Playoffs. Of course, in the interest of full disclosure, the Grizzlies went 0-8 in their first game in April prior to 2003-04. Perhaps more enlightening than the Grizzlies’ record to begin the month is the play of Mike Conley during it. Conley holds a career April scoring average of 15.6 points on .492 shooting, well above his career marks of 11.7 points on .442 from the field.

The West and West
The Grizzlies have won six consecutive games against the Western Conference, but that means little to the Hornets—the last team in the conference to beat Memphis back on March 4 at FedExForum. In fact, since moving to the West, the Hornets have won 18 of the 26 meetings with the Grizzlies and have won the season series four times in the last five seasons (they split the series last year). With a 2-0 series lead already, New Orleans can clinch a tie-breaker over Memphis with a home win tonight. Much of the damage in the past, however, was inflicted when the Hornets had the services of David West, who was recently lost for the season with a torn ACL. Like the Grizzlies rallying around the injury to star forward Rudy Gay (11-7 since the injury), the Hornets have won two of three without West, but it remains to be seen if Carl Landry and Co. can maintain their recent production in West’s absence.

Containing Chris
While Hornets point guard Chris Paul has seen a slip in production this season from the 20-10 pace of 2008-09, he remains incredibly efficient vs. Memphis. The point guard has posted 20 points and 10 assists in both of the meetings with Memphis so far this year—both wins—making it imperative that Mike Conley stay in front of the equally speedy Paul. When Conley takes a breather, the Grizzlies could turn to Ish Smith, who has spelled Conley vs. quicker point guards this season. As is always the case with the Hornets, containing Chris Paul could very well be the difference between winning and losing.