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Game Preview: Wizards Brutal Road Trip Ends in New Orleans

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Can the Pelicans send the Eastern Conference contender to their fourth consecutive defeat?

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The Washington Wizards wrap up a five game road trip with a visit to the Crescent City tonight. So far the trip has gone about as you would expect for an Eastern Conference team. After pulling out a close 104-103 win in Houston they have gone on to lose three straight to the Mavericks, Thunder, and Spurs. In an unnecessary increase in difficulty both the Dallas and San Antonio games were on the back side of a back-to-back. John Wall and company had Sunday off and will be relatively well rested as they look to end their road trip 2-3.

Last time these two teams met it was a brick fest. The Pelicans shot just 37% from the field, lost the battle on the boards 46-42, had 12 assists to go with 12 turnovers, and lost by three points 83-80. That game New Orleans was on the SEGABABA after playing Atlanta the night before. Washington, on the other hand, was coming off a two day break. Tonight, the tables will turn, somewhat.

New Orleans, as we have thoroughly documented, is a different team at home. Their record is 11-4 and that undersells how much better the Pelicans are in the Blender. Within the friendly confines of the Smoothie King Center the Pelicans shoot 48.5% from the field, 4th best in the NBA. Only the Warriors, Spurs, and Mavericks are better. Overall the Pels post a +7.6 Net Rating at home, 6th best in the league.

Eric Gordon's Status

Nakia Hogan was on the beat for the Pelicans practice on Sunday, Eric Gordon's first full participation since his shoulder injury. All the details can be found at this link. Gordon might find his way into the starting lineup as soon as this evening.

"We may start him, we may bring him off the bench," Williams said. "We are not sure. A lot of it is going to depend on his ability to recover from practice tomorrow and his mindset going into the game.

"You want you best players on the floor. It's not like we've won 10 or 15 games in row and we are like 'Hey man, let's not break this rhythm.' That's not the case. We are in a different spot. So we'll deal with that tomorrow, and I'll have conversations with Eric and the coaching staff and see how we proceed."

Eric Gordon's father, Gordon Sr., is in route to see his son return from injury.

As pointed out long ago, the starting lineup from opening day actually did very well despite Gordon's underwhelming stat line. Gordon's presence increases the assist rate on the floor, improves the assist to turnover ratio, and does wonders for the overall performance on offense.

It is likely that Gordon will show some rust regardless of the role he is inserted in; judging him by his personal stat line misses the big picture. Focus, instead, on how the Pelicans as a group perform while he is on the court. Does his ability to attack closeouts open up the lane more than Luke Babbitt? Does his ability to switch onto guards allow New Orleans to close some of the openings found in the perimeter defense? That is where I will tune by eyes.

Three Keys to Victory

1 - Within These Four Walls: No players better contribute to the Pelicans difference at home than Tyreke Evans and Ryan Anderson. Tyreke Evans is an absolute monster in the Smoothie King Center. 52.6% eFG% including shooting 35.7% behind the arc is just the start. Evans is averaging 20.7 PPG, 6.1 APG, and 5.7 RPG in the SKC. Those are not "good" numbers. Those are All-Star numbers.

Anderson keeps his Flamethrower moniker around at home, while stashing it like a secret identity on the road (Cleveland, obviously, excluded). With a po' boy or two in his system Ryno is averaging 18.7 points and 5.7 rebounds per game. And the shooting, oh the shooting. 49.3% from the field and 42.6% behind the arc. On the road Ryno posts a dismal (by his standards) 48.4% TS%, in the Blender that number skyrockets to 62.5%.

2 - Wall It Off: If the Pelicans accomplished one thing in their previous game against the Wiz, it was to keep John Wall from shredded their defense. The Wizards did not attempt a corner three pointer all game. In their other 32 games this season, Washington averages five attempts a game. As Kirk Goldsberry showed last spring, no one assists on corner threes more than John Wall.

3 - No Really, Stop John Wall: Wall finished with 11 points, 7 assists, 3 rebounds, 3 steals, and 3 turnovers in November. He averages 17.2 points and 10.3 assists on the season. This is the kind of matchup that Jrue Holiday appears to relish. Wall, Westbrook, and Harden are all players who look to collapse the defense and either score in the paint or create threes of others. It is this precise method of attack that Holiday excels at thwarting.

A frustrated Wall is more likely to settle for long jumpers. In November he went 0-7 beyond eight feet. The combination of Holiday's quick feet and Asik's presence lurking behind must create an unwelcoming environment near the rim, encouraging less efficient choices.

What: Pelicans vs Wizards

Where: Smoothie King Center

When: January 5th, 7:00 PM

How: Fox Sports New Orleans, NBA TV