Losers of two straight, stranded in the Arctic (or also known as Indianapolis) and down the only player brave enough to hoist a 3-point shot, the Pelicans return to New Orleans more akin to a wounded duck. Yes they played perhaps the two best teams in the NBA, but it just didn't satisfy the palate. Much like earlier in the season, the Pelicans would show flashes, usually in the first half, and then go on to fall apart after halftime. It just doesn't feel like they've learned much since the start of the season. And now, they've got to figure it all out without Ryan Anderson.
First up, the Washington Wizards, who are winners of 5 of their last 6 games on the road but possess a 2-8 mark against the Western Conference. They are lead by John Wall but aren't overly reliant on the budding young star thanks to a solid rotation. When healthy, their team can do it all: shoot from the perimeter, run a good transition, defend well and rebound. Since Bradley Beal and Nene Hilario are currently upright, expect the Wizards best shot.
A lot will be on Jrue Holiday shoulders tonight. He's currently mired in a 3-game funk and will have to exert plenty of energy containing Wall. Someone from the starting five, not named Anthony Davis, needs a solid game and who better than the former All-Star. If the Pelicans have any hopes of attempting to keep their heads above the water, Holiday is going to need to make his presence a factor every single game. He has the ability, but it's going to come down to his aggression. No more deferring on the majority of possessions -- time to get a little selfish.
From a team standpoint, the Pelicans biggest collective focus should be on the Wizards 3-point attack. Although Washington shoots the same percentage from beyond the arc, they average close to five more attempts. Factor in no Anderson, New Orleans disparity will be significantly larger.
Last season, the Wizards lost 40 games by fewer than 10 points. With Wall and Beal a year maturer, a close game in the final minutes has a better chance of ending up in their win column. And that's what we should probably expect it to boil down to tonight.