Grizzlies seek win vs. Pelicans to clinch spot in play-in tourney

NBA Basketball

The Memphis Grizzlies can clinch a spot in the Western Conference play-in tournament by defeating the visiting New Orleans Pelicans on Monday.

The Pelicans are dangerously close to being eliminated from play-in contention.

Ninth-place Memphis (34-33) has a 3 1/2-game lead over the 11th-place Pelicans (31-37), who are 1 1/2 games behind 10th-place San Antonio.

The Grizzlies strengthened their position when they rebounded from a loss to Detroit on Thursday to hold off the Toronto Raptors 109-99 on Saturday in Tampa, Fla.

“It was a great bounce-back win by our guys,” Memphis coach Taylor Jenkins said. “I thought we had a great competitive edge and our defensive intensity was incredible.”

The Grizzlies could be bolstered for the stretch run if Jaren Jackson Jr. plays the way he did against the Raptors in his first start after missing most of the season while recovering from knee surgery. He led seven Grizzlies scorers in double figures with 20 points

“It felt like old times when we just playing off each other and everything was smooth,” Jackson said. “I’m playing basketball again with my friends. I really missed them for sure. There’s nothing more I can ask for. Even with all the pressure on us, it’s great.”

Jonas Valanciunas had 18 points and 21 rebounds, Kyle Anderson scored 16 and De’Anthony Melton scored 15 as all of his shooting and scoring involved fourth-quarter 3-pointers as he went 5-for-10.

“By the time the fourth quarter came around, we noticed what they were doing (defensively),” Melton said. “Finding the open guy was important and everybody did a great job of moving the ball around to get the shooter as open as possible. That’s the result you get.”

The Pelicans have won both meetings this season after sweeping all three against the Grizzlies last season, but they are struggling with a rash of injuries.

They played the first two games of this five-game road trip without their injured starting frontcourt — Zion Williamson (fractured finger), Brandon Ingram (ankle) and Steven Adams (foot).

But after a last-minute loss at Philadelphia on Friday, New Orleans defeated Charlotte 112-110 on Sunday as Eric Bledsoe had 24 points and 11 assists, Jaxson Hayes scored 18, James Johnson had 17, Nickeil Alexander-Walker (returning from an 18-game absence due to an ankle injury) and Naji Marshall had 13 each and Lonzo Ball 12.

“We just played hard,” Pelicans coach Stan Van Gundy said. “We persevered. The best thing we did is we stayed with it. We just kept fighting. …

“(Hayes) was there all the time — best defensive game he’s played this year.”

Hayes added eight rebounds and a career-high six blocked shots.

“One thing about Jax is he might tend to foul a little bit, but he never will give up on a play,” Bledsoe said. “He’d rather take a foul than let the opposite team score a basket. It’s just contagious.

“The one thing I have said about this team is we are giving ourselves a chance to win each and every game. We are trying to play every game and learn from it.”

–Field Level Media

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