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Sacramento Kings vs. New Orleans Pelicans - Game Preview

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Before another small road trip, the Pelicans stop in NOLA for some home cooking. This time, the Sacramento Kings await for some basketball between two of the early Western Conference surprises. Can the Pelicans handle life without two of its starters? What does Anthony Davis have for us after his spectacular performance against Utah?

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

After a four-game road trip, the Pelicans stop back home for a game before playing five of their next six games on the road.

The Pelicans are coming off a 106-94 victory over the Utah JazzJrue Holiday looked excellent against Utah’s guards and Jeff Withey came in providing positive production. Oh yeah, that Anthony Davis guy decided to take over basketball twitter for the night by scoring 43 points (on 23 shots) and grabbing 14 rebounds. Further establishing his role as the "best player in the league" so far this season.

Unfortunately, the Pelicans lost Eric Gordon in that game. Oleh wrote a piece on Gordon’s injury and what it means for the Pelicans moving forward. Before the injury, Gordon looked decent, scoring double-digit points in his last four games, helping a bit in assist category, and spacing the floor. With him out, I imagine Austin Rivers moves into a starting position, which further weakens a lackluster bench.

Moving forward, the Pelicans return home to play the Sacramento Kings. After some interesting draft techniques and odd free-agent decisions this offseason, the Kings have silenced the doubters. Starting off the season with a 8-5 record, headlined by impressive wins over Portland and San Antonio, will do that. In his second season with the team head coach Michael Malone has begun to turn the Kings around. DeMarcus Cousins gives them a bona fide superstar in the middle. These two teams played last week during New Orleans’ road trip, with the Pelicans pulling out a 106-100 victory in NBA TV’s Game of the Night.

Stats of Note

New Orleans enters the game as the better offensive team, registering an offensive efficiency of 108.5, while Sacramento sits at 105.1, per NBA.com. Based on the numbers, Sacramento’s offense appears more isolation based. The Kings rank 27th in assist ratio at 14.9 and 25th in the league at 19.2 assists per game. While Cousins is a good passer in his own right, the combination of he, Ben McLemore, and Jason Thompson has offered very little passing, and a ton of shooting for the Kings this year.

Defensively, the Kings are slightly better than New Orleans, but consider the loss of Omer Asik to be the difference here. The combination of Cousins’ improvement on the defensive end and the defensive upgrade from Isaiah Thomas to Darren Collison at the point guard position helped the Kings have moved from the bottom of the league (23rd last season), to the middle of the pack, ranking 14th with a 103.3 defensive efficiency rating.

Check out the SB Nation Sacramento Kings blog for their perspective: Sactown Royalty

Keys To Victory

Limit Possessions The Kings are currently 4th in the league at time of possession, currently tied with Oklahoma City at 20.1 minutes. Sacramento compounds that with impeccable rebounding, ranking first in the league with a 30.0% Offensive Rebound rate. A ton of that credit goes to Cousins and Thompson, but Rudy Gay is also cleaning up on the glass, giving them a solid trio of rebounders in the frontcourt.

Fantastic numbers for Kings, but the Pelicans do have one advantage in the rebounding department: contested rebounds. New Orleans ranks first in contested rebounds per game and contested rebound percentage. Davis leads the league with 5.9 contested rebounds per game while Asik sits at 4.1. If Asik is out, the Pelicans will need Alexis Ajinca and Ryan Anderson to help Davis on that end. Anderson is solid in that department, averaging 3.1 contested rebounds, while Ajinca only averages 1.7 per game.

The idea is to limit the amount of extra shots the Kings can get, and stop Sacramento from force-feeding DeMarcus Cousins or Ben McLemore behind the arc an extra two or three times. Speaking of Boogie...

Slowing Down The Boogie – DeMarcus Cousins is playing like one of the seven best players in the league to start the season, and even that doesn’t feel like enough credit for his current play. He’s been unstoppable offensively (23.2 points per game, 58.7 TS%) and his rebounding numbers are unreal (12.3 per game, 22.8% total rebound percentage). More frighteningly, Cousins is becoming a net positive on the defensive end, thanks in large part to improved rim protection.

Rim Protection

Against Sacramento last week, the Pelicans did a good job of allowing Ajinca to front Cousins in the paint and allow Davis to clean up any mistakes on the backend. That still resulted in a 24 point-17 rebound performance from Cousins. I expect more of the same in this matchup. The Pelicans will rely on "containing" Boogie while forcing him into some of his typical mistakes. At this stage in his career, Cousins still gets into foul trouble (4.7 per game), and he’ll turn the ball over a bunch for a center (3.3 per game).

Here are Boogie's made shots in the first matchup between these two teams. Like I said, the idea appears to be fronting Boogie with a center and stopping him with a swooping Davis to clean up the shot. You also see as Davis defending Cousins, he's just too small to defend him one-on-one (see shots six and eight). Also, good lord, look at shot number seven on this reel as Cousins goes coast-to-coast for the finish.

(Again, thanks to NBA.com for the video they provide us.)

Force Sacramento Outside – The Kings have one of the biggest bullies down low, but outside, they aren’t so tough. Sacramento ranks 26th in the league at 34.4% on shots from 15-19 feet, 28th at 31.9% from 20-24 feet, and 25th from three at 31.4%. Outside of McLemore (41.4% from three on 4.5 attempts per game), the Pelicans have to remove those shots at or near the rim and push Sacramento further and further near the three-point line.

The problem? New Orleans leads the league in opponent’s shots per game from five feet or less. The Pelicans will have to get pressure on Sacramento's guards, and use their knack for creating longer possessions into poor shots. With no Gordon and Asik, the Pelicans will probably rely on a shorter rotation, and that's going to push New Orleans' starters into longer minutes.

TV: Fox Sports New Orleans and NBA League Pass

Radio: WWWL 1350AM

Time: 7:00p.m. Central Time

Before you go, I have one last thing: Hello! My name is Quentin Haynes. I'm one of the newer contributors here on The Bird Writes. Currently a college student at the University at Buffalo, I love to talk and write about sports, music, and a bunch of other things, some nerdy, and some not so nerdy. I'll try my best to be active in the comments and if you think I'm cool, you can follow me on twitter @Haynesenberg. Let me know if you're from The Bird Writes, too.

Also...I tweet about wrestling. I have to let you know that before you hate me for live tweeting the PPV's. Glad to meet you all. Go Pellies.