Coming off an unexpected win over the Oklahoma City Thunder your New Orleans Pelicans head west once again for three games in four nights. The road trip begins in the "Roaracle" Arena where Anthony Davis and company will face a Golden State team on a ten game winning streak. Of course, it is important to note that this winning streak has featured just one game, at Miami, against a team currently above .500. New Orleans has played just six teams all season with a record currently under .500 for some perspective; the Pelicans are 6-0 in such games.
Another important feature, the game will be on TNT at 9:30 PM local time. This is the only game New Orleans will be on TNT all season, a hilarious oversight of NBA scheduling quirks. As Paul Flannery noted on November 23rd the TNT schedule is much more difficult to flex Pelican games onto, as Thursday nights are saved as a showcase for just two games.
Both teams come off very different wins. While the Pelicans controlled the game throughout and held on late against the Thunder (whose 5-13 record belies that OKC was as close to healthy on Tuesday as they have been all season) the Warriors completed an impressive comeback to silence the upstart Orlando Magic. Golden State went into the half up ten to relinquish the lead in the third quarter. The otherworldly shot making of Steph Curry ultimately won the game in the final seconds.
Golden State won all three games between these teams last season. Unfortunately, every game saw a number of key absences. The Pelicans nearly pulled out win in New Orleans on November 26th but a WIDE OPEN Eric Gordon corner three to win was not meant to be. Andrew Bogut (suspension) and Andre Iguodala (injury) both missed the game for the Warriors.
Next the Pelicans lost twice by double figures. On December 17th both Anthony Davis and Tyreke Evans missed a 104-93 loss that was not as close as the score might suggest. By January 18th the injury cataclysm was nearly complete as Jrue Holiday, Ryan Anderson, and Jason Smith were all out with injury for a 97-87 loss.
Both teams are close to 100% coming into Thursday's game, and thankfully both come off not only wins, but a day of rest as preparation.
Jrue Holiday on Steph Curry. Holiday is beginning to round into form after starting the season less than 100% by his own admission. No game was more evident of that fact than Tuesday night, where he held Russell Westbrook to 21 points on 20 shots while committing a ghastly seven turnovers.
While Holiday continues to struggle with his shot (16 points on 17 shots) his play making is vastly improved from seasons past. His assists numbers are down slightly (9.8 per 100 possessions versus 12.2 last season), largely a product of playing more minutes with Tyreke Evans. Holiday's assist-to-turnover ratio, once a sore spot sitting below 2.5 for his first five seasons, is now a robust 4.12.
Defending the Impossible
Steph Curry presents a challenge on both ends for Holiday.
Defensively is going to be the focal point. Curry famously broke San Antonio's conservative pick and roll schemes in the playoffs just two years ago. Sagging big men back when Andrew Bogut continues to set such devastating ball screens is not an option. This will be a team effort but Holiday's ability to fight through and over screens while avoiding fouls on closeouts will be key.
Jrue has struggled with foul trouble off-and-on this season; New Orleans cannot afford to spend significant time without their best perimeter defender on the court against a player of Steph Curry's caliber. Avoiding cheap and unnecessary fouls is step one. Step two requires a less aggressive approach with his hands, especially when off the ball. Silly holding calls away from the ball could be the death knell for the Pelicans.
Make Shots, Pace!
On offense, Holiday must accomplish two tasks. First, get the team into sets and the ball moving. The pace against Oklahoma City was greatly aided by frequent turnovers and the Pelicans took advantage with 20 fast break points. Golden State is both willing and able to turn the ball over - posting the 28th worst turnover rate (15.7%) in the league.
Second, Jrue must knock down the open shots he will see. Last season Holiday shot 42.4% on open threes. This season he is shooting 31.9%. For a career 37% shooter behind the arc to shoot so poorly on open attempts is clearly an anomaly. One game of regression to the mean would do wonders for the New Orleans offense.
What: Pelicans @ Warriors
Where: Oracle Arena
When: December 4th, 9:30 PM