The New Orleans Pelicans are on a three-game winning streak by playing at a faster pace with Tyreke Evans in the starting lineup at small forward.
In those games, the Pelicans (26-37) have averaged 118.3 points per game in scoring 355 points, matching their highest output for any three-game stretch this season.
That can be expected to change when the Pelicans meet the Memphis Grizzlies (36-26) on Wednesday night at Smoothie King Center in a Southwest Division game.
The Grizzlies are a better defensive team than any of the past three foes and much more methodical in the halfcourt behind center Marc Gasol and power forward Zach Randolph, who are one of the NBA’s best low-post players.
“It’s going to be a whole different story,” Pelicans guard Eric Gordon said. “It’s going to be more of a slow-paced, grind-it-out game. For us to be consistent (vs. Memphis), we have to score and have to be very consistent on defense.”
The Pelicans are 3-0 against the Grizzlies this season, including victories at Memphis on Nov. 16 and Jan. 20. Two developments, however, took place just before the second meeting at Memphis that have put the Grizzlies back in their perennial position as a playoff team.
First, shooting guard Courtney Lee was obtained on Jan. 7 from the Boston Celtics in a three-team trade when a replacement was needed for Tony Allen, who has had an assortment of injuries.
Gasol, who missed 23 games with a sprained left MCL, returned one week later. Since, then, Memphis has gone 18-7, 20-8 with Lee in the lineup. Heading into Wednesday night’s game, it has won four of its past five in gaining the eighth playoff position in the Western Conference race.
Gordon, who will be matched against Lee at least from the outset, said the key is to chase him off the 3-point line. He has shot 39.3 percent on 3-pointers this season, spacing the floor for Randolph and Gasol. Lee, however, is also adept at making 12-foot pull-up shots, and at 6-foot-5 and athletic, can cause problems driving to the basket. He is shooting 48.9 percent from the field.
“He just gives them so much more stability at that guard spot,” Pelicans coach Monty Williams said. “(Traded guard Jerryd) Bayless probably wasn’t as consistent as they would like, and Tony Allen was out at the time, and so they needed somebody like Courtney Lee.”
If Evans, 6-6, is forced into the matchup defensively against Lee, it will be interesting to see how that affects New Orleans offensively, although Gordon, 6-3, often plays good defense.
Another key, Williams said, could be the play of Memphis’ bench. Under first-year coach Dave Joerger, the reserves keep up the pressure, shooting 47 percent, including 38.5 on 3-pointers, both ranking third in the NBA.
Kosta Koufos is a 7-foot banger. Guard Nick Calathes was the Western Conference rookie of the month for February, and James Johnson, a 6-9 call-up from the Development League, energizes the team with blocks and steals.
Then, there’s Allen, one of the league’s best defensive guards in his 10-year career, and veteran Mike Miller, who is averaging 10.2 points on 59.6 percent shooting since the All-Star break. Jon Leuer is another shooter.
The Pelicans, however, definitely have an advantage in speed and quickness. And, the defense of Anthony Davis, who leads the NBA in blocked shots, could keep Randolph in check inside. Davis is coming off 32 points, 17 rebounds and six blocks against Denver.
To Gordon, it gets back to what the Pelicans have established in this winning streak, which would reach a season-high four with a victory against Memphis.
“I think when we play at a faster pace, we give teams trouble,” he said. “We play pretty good team ball, and when we keep on scoring and scoring, it helps us on the defensive end to (set up and) shut teams down.”
Rookie center Jeff Withey was made to sing happy birthday to Davis after Tuesday’s practice and tried to spice things up with a bit of a rendition. “It was awful,” said Gordon, wincing. … Williams said forward Ryan Anderson, who has been out since Jan. 3 with two herniated discs, is still gathering information from doctors all around the country. … A Pelicans win will mark the sixth time they have swept the season series against an opponent. New Orleans has swept Philadelphia, Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland and Milwaukee, although each was two games because those are Eastern Conference teams.