Pelicans shootaround update: Fast-break offense sparking New Orleans, Memphis success

Prior to Sunday’s dramatic overtime win for his club in Denver, Nuggets head coach Michael Malone described the game plan for attempting to contain New Orleans: “You try to make them play in the halfcourt, because lately the points they’re scoring off forced turnovers, the steals they’re getting per game, are just off the charts.”

The same strategy applies for every NBA team facing Memphis. When the Pelicans visit the Grizzlies in FedEx Forum on Tuesday (6:30 p.m., TNT, 100.3 FM), it will be a matchup of teams that have used similar approaches to success, particularly of late for New Orleans.

Since the All-Star break, the Pelicans (18.8) and Grizzlies (18.7) rank 1-2 in the NBA in fast-break points per game, an area New Orleans has improved in substantially, after averaging 13.2 in the stat through 59 games. Memphis has relied on transition offense all season, ranking No. 1 over the course of 2021-22 at 17.1 fast-break points per game, well in front of second-place Charlotte’s 15.6 average.

Brandon Ingram leads New Orleans in its five post-break games by averaging 3.8 fast-break points, while Naji Marshall (3.6), Herbert Jones (3.4) and CJ McCollum (3.2) have also been prominent cogs in the squad’s push for more run-out scores. Early this afternoon, Ingram was added to the team's injury report, listed as questionable due to right hamstring soreness.

Other notes:

On paper, 44-22 Memphis is the toughest opponent New Orleans will meet until a week from now when it hosts Phoenix. After Tuesday’s game, the Pelicans play 13 of their next 15 games against foes that currently have sub-.500 records, though Charlotte (March 11, March 21 games vs. NOLA) and Atlanta (March 20) are only slightly below the break-even mark. …

Tuesday’s game is the first time New Orleans has met Memphis this season while rested (not playing a game the night before). The finale between the division foes is April 9 in Tennessee on the penultimate day of the regular season.


Offensive efficiency rank: 5 (113.2)

Defensive efficiency rank: 8 (108.8)

Net rating: 6 (+4.3)

Pace: 8 (100.06)

Streak: Lost 1

Go-to guy: Ja Morant has performed so spectacularly lately that he’s moved into discussions as a legitimate MVP candidate, joining the likes of Joel Embiid, Nikola Jokic, Giannis Antetokounmpo and DeMar DeRozan. After breaking Memphis’ all-time single-game scoring record in consecutive outings (46 points at Chicago, 52 points two days later vs. San Antonio), the lightning-quick point guard ranks fifth on NBA.com’s “Race to the MVP Ladder.” Per NBA.com, Morant’s buzzer-beating hoop against the Spurs last week was the most-matched video on Instagram in league history, generating over 40 million views.

On the rise: Morant’s starting backcourt partner, second-year shooting guard Desmond Bane has nearly doubled his scoring average from last season, averaging 17.8 points (compared to 9.2 as a rookie). The sturdy 6-foot-5, 215-pounder is dangerous from the perimeter, connecting on over 40 percent of his attempts from three-point range in both of his pro campaigns. Bane has contributed 20-plus points in 26 games this season, with the Grizzlies going 20-6 in those instances.



Sunday loss at Denver

CJ McCollum, Herbert Jones, Brandon Ingram, Jaxson Hayes, Jonas Valanciunas

Notes: This group is 4-2 after an overtime loss to the Nuggets. New Orleans is 1-2 in OT this season, with both losses coming against Denver (the win was over Milwaukee). … The Pelicans can again move within a half-game of the ninth-place Lakers (28-36) by winning Tuesday. Los Angeles’ next game is Wednesday at Houston. New Orleans also has an opportunity to create more separation between it and the teams pursuing the final play-in berth. Portland (25-39) and San Antonio (25-40) are both idle Tuesday.


Sunday loss at Houston

Ja Morant, Desmond Bane, Ziaire Williams, Jaren Jackson Jr., Steven Adams

Notes: This group is 11-5, together for each of the past seven games after Morant was sidelined during his team’s Feb. 15 victory at New Orleans. Despite going 3-4 during that seven-game stretch, the Grizzlies have inched ahead of Golden State (43-22) for the second spot in the West standings, because the Warriors are also slumping, going 2-8 in their last 10 games and losing five straight. Memphis’ cushion on fourth-place Utah is three games.



Memphis and New Orleans rank first and third, respectively, in the NBA in rebounding percentage (Utah is second). The Pelicans need to limit the Grizzlies’ second-chance opportunities after Memphis averaged 15.5 offensive rebounds in the first two meetings vs. New Orleans, including a whopping 18 O-boards Feb. 15.


Second-round draftee Jones and undrafted guard Jose Alvarado have been big difference-makers for New Orleans this season, with both often leading the charge on defense and in plus-minus. For Memphis, Williams was a more highly-regarded draft prospect than those first-year Pels (picked in the lottery at No. 10). Williams has been given greater responsibility as the season has progressed, starting in 25 of his last 27 appearances, after zero starts through Dec. 31.


At power forward, it’s Jaxson vs. Jackson. New Orleans has gone 7-3 with Hayes in the starting lineup, with all three losses coming against quality opponents (at Cleveland, vs. Dallas, at Denver in OT). Memphis’ Jackson just needed to get healthy after being sidelined by injuries for chunks of each of his first three NBA seasons. He’s averaging 16.3 points, 6.0 rebounds and 2.2 blocks in ’21-22, appearing in 65 of 66 Grizzlies games.