Pelicans return to Memphis hoping to end skid

Associated Press photo by GERALD HERBERT -- Pelicans point guard Tyreke Evans shoots as the Memphis' Jerryd Bayless, Mike Miller and Ed Davis close in earlier this season at New Orleans Arena.
Associated Press photo by GERALD HERBERT -- Pelicans point guard Tyreke Evans shoots as the Memphis' Jerryd Bayless, Mike Miller and Ed Davis close in earlier this season at New Orleans Arena.

The last time Tyreke Evans and the New Orleans Pelicans ventured to Memphis, Tenn., it was an uplifting experience.

That was way back on Nov. 6, just the Pelicans’ fifth game of the season. Evans, who was returning to the city where he played in college, had his best game to that point, racking up 16 points and seven rebounds.

But more important, the new-look Pelicans showed what they could become in a resounding 99-84 victory.

“We played hard for 48 minutes,” Evans said. “We had the lead, and we never looked back. And that was on the road, so that was a big win for us.”

The Pelicans (15-24) tip off against the Grizzlies (20-19) again at 4 p.m. Monday in one of four televised games on Martin Luther King Day. It’s also the first of back-to-back games for the Pelicans, who on Tuesday host Sacramento, Evans’ team the past four years.

But things are different now. The Pelicans who jumped on the Grizzlies two months ago have been weakened by injuries and have lost eight consecutive games.

“We had all our guys there (for the first meeting), so it’s going to be different for both teams,” Evans said. “We’ve got guys down, and they’ve got better guys back.”

New Orleans is 2-0 against Memphis this season. But Grizzlies starting power forward Zach Randolph played just one quarter in the first meeting, and starting center Marc Gasol didn’t play in the second game, a 104-98 Pelicans victory Dec. 13 in New Orleans.

Both will be there this time. Gasol returned Jan. 12 from a sprained left knee that caused him to miss 23 games. Gasol, the game’s best passing big man who doubles as a standout defender, makes the offense run smoothly. With him in the high post and Randolph down low, they work well together.

Memphis enters on a five-game winning streak.

“We have to do a great job of getting in (Gasol’s) face and not allowing him to just pick us apart,” coach Monty Williams said. “And then you have to get them off the glass. When they’re really good, he and Zach are pushing you under the basket, and they don’t give you an opportunity to box out.”

The Grizzlies obtained shooting guard Courtney Lee from Boston in a three-team trade Jan. 7. That move may have signaled the start of a change from a defensive-oriented team to one that’s looking to be more offensive. Lee has averaged 13.6 points on 52 percent shooting since coming to the Grizzlies, including 24 points against Oklahoma City on Tuesday.

With starting center Jason Smith joining leading scorer Ryan Anderson and starting point guard Jrue Holiday out indefinitely, the Pelicans have the look of an undermanned team. They lack the injured players’ production, and their chemistry sometimes appears to be of one of a team that’s starting from scratch.

“We have to figure out how to get over this hump,” said Evans, who returned in Saturday night’s 97-87 loss to Golden State and scored 14 points after missing three games with a sprained ankle and bone bruise. “We can’t be down if we’re losing. We can’t be happy just playing hard. We have to find a way to get a win.”

Evans also returned from an ankle injury to lead the Pelicans past the Kings the last time the teams met, Dec. 23 in Sacramento. He had 25 points and 12 assists to lead the Pelicans to a 113-100 victory, their lone win of a five-game road trip.

‘How blessed you are’

Williams said he appreciated the opportunity to play on Martin Luther King Day.

“As an African-American coach, I know that many people like Dr. King sacrificed so that I can be in a spot like this,” he said. “So I don’t want to destroy that for the guys coming behind me. So it’s cool to play on this day. It gives you a chance for that day to remember how blessed you are, and it also gives you an opportunity to reflect on what someone like Dr. King went through. It’s just a special day. I’m glad we celebrate it all over our country.”

Smith set for surgery

Smith is set to have surgery Wednesday to remove a loose piece of cartilage in his right knee.

“They said it could lock up the knee or tear some other stuff up,” he said.

The new face

Rookie center Jeff Withey said he’s excited about the Pelicans acquiring point guard Tyshawn Taylor, who played at Kansas with Withey, from Brooklyn. Internet reports said the trade — Taylor and cash for a draft pick — was completed Saturday, but neither team has announced it.

“He’s a really crafty point guard; he knows how to change his speeds really well,” Withey said. “He likes to get to the basket and look for other people. (At Kansas,) he liked driving in there and throwing a lob, so I can see that working well here with Anthony (Davis).”