Anthony Davis defends against Memphis center Marc Gasol

Pelicans shootaround presented by HUB International: Focus paramount in New Orleans pre-break finale at Memphis

by Jim Eichenhofer
@Jim_Eichenhofer

MEMPHIS – With the majority of the New Orleans roster about to receive a multi-day hiatus from basketball, tunnel vision and focus become of utmost importance Wednesday, when the Pelicans visit division rival Memphis (7 p.m., Fox Sports New Orleans, WRNO 99.5 FM). The Grizzlies are a perennial playoff team as it is, but even tougher in FedEx Forum, including an 18-10 home record in 2016-17. Among those 18 victories was an overtime win over New Orleans in November.

“As much as you can, (don’t) think about the All-Star break,” Pelicans forward Solomon Hill said after Wednesday’s shootaround of the required mental approach. “Leave it all out there on the floor, because you have a couple days to rest after this.”

“I see it as an opportunity to get a win, knowing that rest is coming,” guard E’Twaun Moore said. “So put it all out there on the line tonight, and then we’ve got a week break.”

New Orleans (22-34) has an opportunity to cap what would be its best road trip of the regular season, in the process significantly improving its record in away games. The Pelicans were just 6-18 entering this four-game excursion against Western Conference hosts, but would go 3-1 on the trip if they can pull off an upset over the Grizzlies.

New Orleans is currently 12th in the West, trailing eighth-place Denver by 3.5 games, but also behind No. 9 Sacramento (2 games ahead of Pelicans, also clinched tiebreaker); No. 10 Portland (1.5 games ahead); and No. 11 Dallas (0.5 games ahead of Pelicans). That lengthy list is part of why every New Orleans game should provide urgency, including one that precedes a stretch where it won’t play again until eight days from now.

“We’ve just got to finish out the road trip, go out with a win, especially in our circumstance where Denver is nearing .500,” Hill said of the 25-30 Nuggets. “That’s putting us in hot water, almost to the point where we have to win every game.”

Other notes from shootaround in Tennessee:

The Grizzlies are 2-0 vs. the Pelicans head-to-head this season, but that only tells a sliver of the story. Both Memphis victories came in overtime, as New Orleans had a chance to win at the fourth-quarter buzzer Nov. 2 in FedEx Forum, then watched Marc Gasol drain a stepback three-pointer Dec. 5 to force OT at the Smoothie King Center.

“They’re always a tough, grind-it-out, gritty team,” Hill said, making a reference to Memphis’ popular slogan. “Their core of their players have been together for a while now. For (Zach Randolph) to come off the bench is a huge punch for them. They just get it done. They’ve always gotten it done. They are a team you have to have respect for what they do day in and day out. They’re not the flashiest offensive team, but they make up for it on defense. They slow the game down and play the type of game they want to play on most nights.” …

Speaking of pace, a faster game would benefit New Orleans, which ranks ninth in the NBA in possessions per 48 minutes. Conversely, Memphis plays the third-slowest pace in the league.

“Very physical team, the most physical team in the league,” Moore described of the Grizzlies. “We’ve got to try to move them, try to play a fast pace with them. They want to slow it down and try to grind it out. You’ve got to try to counter what they want to do.” …

Dante Cunningham (personal) and Terrence Jones (right thumb sprain) have already been ruled out of Wednesday’s game. On Monday at Phoenix, with both players unavailable, the Pelicans went with Alexis Ajinca to fill in as a starter.

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