If I had to describe the end of last week for the Pelicans with one word, the word I’d select would be "solid." The Pelicans scored a victory over Houston on Thursday, only to be on the losing end of a blowout at the hand of Portland on Saturday. Then, New Orleans ended the weekend with a victory against their primary competition for the eighth seed in the Oklahoma City Thunder. With the two teams close in terms of overall record, New Orleans holding two victories over Oklahoma City will only help them moving forward.
Another week in the books means another week down until Eric Gordon returns for the Pelicans. That will be huge for the Pelicans, as their best basketball lineup came with Gordon at the shooting guard position around Holiday, Evans, Davis, and Asik. Not to mention, the Pelicans could use another floor spacer. Before the injury, Gordon shot 34.1% from three, which would be a welcomed addition back to the team. A returning Gordon (Somewhere around early January), plus a strengthened bench with Dante Cunningham gives the Pelicans a strong rotation.
Tuesday's opponent for the Pelicans are the Indiana Pacers. While I wouldn't put this in the "must win" category, a win here moving forward would be strong for New Orleans. After Indiana, New Orleans plays San Antonio twice, Chicago, Phoenix, Houston, and Washington before getting their next "easy" game in Charlotte on Jan. 7th. Not the easiest of slates for New Orleans. The Pacers are one of the worst teams in the Eastern Conference, and if the Pelicans want to be taken seriously as playoff contenders, these are the games you have to win.
At 9-19, the Pacers are admirable for their fight, even in the middle of a lost season. Paul George went down with a horrific leg injury during a Team USA scrimmage, while free agent Lance Stephenson left for Charlotte, removing two of Indiana’s top four players. Even with players like David West, Roy Hibbert and George Hill on the roster, the Pacers are clearly in the midst of a rebuilding year.
Stats of Note
Even without their best players, the Pacers’ calling card is still their defense. While they aren’t the typical top four defense from years past, the Pacers rank 10th in the league in defensive efficiency at 101.7 points per 100 possessions, via NBA.com. Roy Hibbert is one of the best defensive players in the league, and that, combined with Hill and West gives them familiarity while they use newer, younger players to replace George and Stephenson.
Offensively, they’re abysmal. Indiana ranks 29th in the league in offensive efficiency, only ranking above the lowly Philadelphia 76ers. Obviously losing Stephenson and George has to do with that drop from the middle of the pack to the bottom. The Pacers lack a go-to scorer, with David West leading the charge, leading the team with 12.8 points per game. Around him are guys like Rodney Stuckey, C.J. Miles, C.J. Watson, and Solomon Hill – all averaging above 10.0 points per game, but inefficiently.
The Pacers are also one of the better rebounding teams in basketball. Indiana ranks fourth in the league in rebounding percentage at 51.6% and second in rebounds per game at 45.6 per game. Instead of using one great rebounder to lead the charge, the Pacers use a balanced attack of rebounders, led by Lavoy Allen’s 7.7 rebounds per game. Behind him is Roy Hibbert (7.0 per game, but also underrated for the way he create space for others to get rebounds), Luis Scola (6.9), David West (6.5), and Ian Mahinmi (5.8).
Keys to Victory
Force bad shots – This is a rather easy oe. The Pelicans have the frontcourt players to force Indiana into bad shots. As said earlier, the Pacers have a handful of players who can score points, but none of them do it in an efficient fashion. Anthony Davis buzzing around the middle of the floor with Omer Asik behind him at the rim should result in some poor Indiana shots.
Score With Roy Hibbert On The Bench – Roy Hibbert is one of the best rim protectors in basketball. Like Omer Asik, he’s really a cornerstone for a defensive strategy. Hibbert allows just 40.3% on opponent’s field goal attempts at the rim. He’s not only fantastic at stopping scorers at the rim, but when he’s down there in the paint, he’s great at forcing opponents to think twice of going down there. The Pelicans will have to do their best at scoring with Hibbert off the floor in order to win.
Another good Anthony Davis game – This should simply say "duh," but I’ll go a bit further: the Pelicans need good games from Davis to win. Against Houston, Davis had 30 points, 14 rebounds, five blocks, and two steals. Against Portland, Davis had seven points, six rebounds, and five blocks. Coming off a great performance against Oklahoma City (38 points, 12 rebounds, three blocks, two assists), I want to see Davis continue his strong play, making a Pelicans victory all but assured.
Anthony Davis is playing well, so I think the Pelicans will pull this out. Geaux Pelicans.
TV: Fox Sports New Orleans and NBA League Pass
Radio: WWWL 1350AM
Time: 6:00p.m. Central Time