The last time these two teams matched up the Pelicans pulled out a hard fought victory, 100-99. In control for the majority of the game in the last five minutes New Orleans eased up on the gas pedal and nearly gave it to Popovich's bench mob. Thankfully an Anthony Davis layup saved a less than stellar effort in the final minutes.
Both those teams were rested and relatively healthy. Only Tiago Splitter and Patty Mills were unavailable. Tonight that will not be the case. For the Pelicans Eric Gordon remains out, although his return could be in the coming weeks off a torn labrum. San Antonio remains without Patty Mills and trades Kawhi Leonard for Tiago Splitter on the inactive list.
The Spurs also played yesterday, a 114-106 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder. Minutes were managed nicely by Popovich, with no player logging more than Matt Bonner's 31:48. Boris Diaw was out and appeared ill on the bench according to some reports. No word yet on how Popovich will manage the roster against the Pelicans.
San Antonio, like the Pelicans, are in a rough stretch of the schedule. They will play five games in seven days including their Christmas Day feature, including two back-to-backs. New Orleans plays the Spurs on the back half of each back-to-back. (SEcond GAme of a BAck to BAck= SEGABABA) On December 31st the Pels will also be on a SEGABABA in San Antonio.
Three Keys to Victory
1 - Chose a Path, Stick With It: While San Antonio has 1-1 this week their offense has kicked it up a notch, logging 70 assists and 21 secondary assists in their past two games on 91 made field goals. Against the Pelicans in November they logged just 15 assists and 3 secondary assists. It is critical that the Pelicans stick with their conservative game plan of forcing Tony Parker to beat them with his jump shot.
That plan not only limited Spurs ball movement, but cut off the paint (SAS scored just 38 in the paint) and the three point line. San Antonio made just five threes all game and none in the second half as Omer Asik and company held the Spurs to 10/24 within eight feet.
Even if Parker is burying the mid range jumper, as he did in the second quarter going 4/4, the Pelicans must be patient. Tony Parker might beat them with the mid range shot. The Spurs are almost guaranteed to win if the ball is moving and threes are raining.
2 - Make Open Shots: It sounds simple but there is no way around it. In losses the Pelicans actually get to the line more, send their opponents to the line less, and control the glass better. Those are all things that should, hypothetically, lead to wins. The difference is shooting.
In 14 wins the Pelicans shoot 38.75% (93/240) behind the arc on open shots. In 14 losses New Orleans is connecting on just 31.43% (73/245) of open threes. It isn't that the Pelicans foul more, get to the line less, or don't control the glass. The ball just does not go through the hoop despite creating MORE open opportunities. This affect carries inside the arc as well. The Pellies shoot 45.63% (120/263) on open twos in losses and 56.75% (164/289) in wins.
3 - Home Cooking: The Pelicans, outside of the one loss to Portland, have been a completely different team playing in the Crescent City. Ryan Anderson goes from a mediocre shooter (at best) on the road to The Flamethrower in the Blender. Tyreke Evans struggles at the rim outside Louisiana but is a wrecking machine with his gumbo level properly calibrated. This team must defend its home court over the next six games and survive to the (L)Eastern Conference portion of the schedule.
What: Spurs @ Pelicans
Where: Smoothie King Center
When: December 26th, 7:00 PM
How: Fox Sports New Orleans, League Pass