It has been a long time since the Pelicans beat the Mavericks in a game that counts. Wait, that's not entirely correct. The last time New Orleans beat Dallas in a regular season basketball game this team was called the Hornets. You have to go all the way back to January 5th, 2013 to find a regular season victory over the Mavericks. Since that game (sealed by an Eric Gordon score and free throw in overtime) Dallas has defeated New Orleans seven consecutive times.
Do not assume because Dallas has owned the series the past two seasons that it has not been competitive. Three of those seven Maverick victories were won by a margin of four points or less. Shoddy execution down the stretch for New Orleans has doomed them on multiple occasions. Dallas, on the other hand, has the luxury of Dirk Nowitzki.
Pelicans on Defense
This year could be different. In the past seven games Dallas shot 43% behind the arc (on 22.6 attempts per game) and averaged 43.1 points per game in the paint against New Orleans. The Mavericks largely accomplished this without attacking the offensive glass; Dallas has posted an anemic 20.7% Offensive Rebound Rate during their winning streak.
Omer Asik should help defend the paint and allow Pelican defenders to stay home on shooters on the perimeter. The more conservative pick and roll coverages New Orleans has shown throughout October will challenge Maverick ball handlers to shoot off the dribble as well instead of opening the paint for a series of drive and kicks.
Finding a way to encourage pull up jumpers from Monta Ellis (shot eFG% 38.4% last year) and Chandler Parsons (35.9% last year) should be at the top of the to-do list defensively. With good reason; allow those same shooters to catch and shoot if New Orleans is chasing and rotating those percentages skyrocket to 53.6% and 59.2%. The Pelicans must find a way to stick to these threats behind the arc and be confident in AD and Asik defending the paint.
Pelicans on Offense
Attack. Attack the rim, attack the offensive glass. Dallas last season struggled to gather offensive rebounds and sent opponents to the line often. Tyson Chandler is going to mitigate some of those effects. Getting him in foul trouble could bring the defense crumbling to Rick Carlisle's feet.
Dallas should start Jameer Nelson, Monta Ellis, and Chandler Parsons. None of those options has a prayer to stay in front of Tyreke Evans. On Tuesday Monty Williams found ways to create a number of side PnR's with Tyreke moving into the center of the floor. Those motion weave handoffs afforded Evans the space necessary to operate; leading directly to Asik's big night on offense.
One of Jrue Holiday or Eric Gordon must perform better on Saturday than Opening Night. Gordon was aggressive but inefficient while Holiday was tentative much of the first half. It cannot be alternating turns on possessions; opportunities to pierce the Maverick defense must be seized on immediately. What Dallas may lack in length and defensive talent in the starting lineup is compensated for with a wealth of experience and basketball IQ. Wait an extra beat and the Mavs will recover.
Anthony Davis and Dirk Nowitzki is the easy answer because it is the right answer. Dirk averaged 25.8 points per game against New Orleans last season in just over 30 minutes of work. Nearly half of his shot attempts were the catch and shoot variety. Anthony Davis needs to stay out of foul trouble but consistently challenge shot attempts under control. Dirk is still going to make shots; he is one of the most gifted scorers on the planet. AD cannot block every shot, or even most of them. Contest cleanly and do not bite on the various fakes sure to come.
On offense I do not know how Coach Carlisle will approach this matchup. Try to guard Davis with Tyson Chandler (good in a vacuum) and Omer Asik will run wild on the offensive glass with Dirk tasked to block him out. Also the Pelicans are going to screen often with Asik (by far the best ball screener on the court) so it makes sense to avoid cross matching. Do that and the Pelicans must find a way to adjust and involve Davis as the screener more frequently in the PnR.
Davis is going to have a number of in-between catches with Tyson Chandler stepping up to impede his progress and potentially take a charge or two. AD needs to be able to identify the weakness this rotation creates and make the right decision. Dump off passes to Asik need to be easily caught. When the opportunity presents itself The Brow must be prepared to attack to rim and not settle for less efficient choices.
Look for our Game Thread to post at 5:00 pm, one hour prior to tip-off. Let's hear what you will be watching for in the comments.