The Pelicans are currently four games out of the eighth spot in the Western Conference standings. Conveniently, they will play the residents of that position, the Dallas Mavericks, twice in the next 48 hours. A quick two game swing in either direction is possible. These teams have faced each other once so far this season, with the Mavericks escaping New Orleans with a 100-97 victory.
Dallas is a good match-up for the Pelicans, even without Ryan Anderson. Opponents shoot 64.1% in the restricted area against the Mavs, partly due to Dallas posting a 72.7% Defensive Rebound Rate. The one strength of the Mavericks defensively is forcing turnovers on 15.5% of opponent possessions, second in the NBA. These strengths and weaknesses play well to the Pelicans as New Orleans attacks the basket (attempting 46.71% of all shots within 8 feet of the rim), attacks the offensive glass (collects 28.8% of offensive rebound opportunities, 5th in the league), and rarely turns the ball over (12.4% turnover rate, 4th in the league).
Of note, while the Pelicans did have the services of Ryan Anderson on December 4th, they were without Anthony Davis. Despite his absence, New Orleans still collected 58 total rebounds, 18 of which were offensive (good for a 37.5% OREB%). Also, while Ryan Anderson did play, he was ice cold after logging 56 minutes in the triple overtime game win in Chicago. Do not mistaken this though to mean the Pelicans have an excellent chance of winning without the Arsenal -- the team's record stands at 3-9 without the Flamethrower.
Going back to last season, Dallas has won four straight games over New Orleans. Al-Farouq Aminu is averaging 12.2 points and 14.5 rebounds a game in that stretch; while Anthony Davis has missed the last three games. It will be interesting to see if Aminu continues to devour rebounds, if Davis is effective guarding Dirk Nowitzki (AD logged a total 35 ineffective minutes in two games last year despite not being in foul trouble...), and how Rick Carlisle chooses to defend us without our seemingly only three point threat. If there was ever a time to try Aminu for long minutes at PF, this would be the opponent.
On defense, the Pelicans have recently been a train wreck. Given Anderson's supposed limitations on that end, it is dubious to blame defensive lapses on him. Indiana, Miami, and Washington got into the paint at will for despairingly long stretches, all the while New Orleans struggled offensively. An 18-0 Pacers run in the third quarter, a 19-6 Heat run in the fourth quarter, and a 18-4 Wizards run in the third quarter all proved too much to overcome for New Orleans. All of these stretches featured a combination of opponents getting into the lane with ease and late or poor rotations to shooters by the Pelicans on kick outs. Defending the paint while avoiding painfully long stretches of stagnant offense will be necessary to secure a win. Do not expect the Mavs to turn the ball over often so Coach Monty and Company must find other avenues to increase the pace and take advantage of our superior athleticism.
While the Pelicans will be without Ryan Anderson, the Mavericks will be short Shawn Marion. As James Hebert points out, the Mavs have struggled recently and could be in route for a decline with Marion sidelined. If the Pelicans want to make a push, the next 48 hours present a wonderful opportunity.