A little over six months ago, the New Orleans Pelicans traveled to the San Francisco Bay Area on quite a high. They knocked off the San Antonio Spurs in the final game of the regular season to earn a ticket to the 2015 postseason. The 8th seed of the Western Conference playoffs made a run late in Game 1 to make the score respectable and flipped the script for Game 2 by entering the fourth quarter tied. However, both games ended in the same manner and the Pelicans left Roaracle down 0-2.
This time around, the playing field will be different. After defecting to New Orleans, Alvin Gentry will pace the sidelines for the Pelicans while Steve Kerr remains out indefinitely after suffering complications from back surgery. In his place, Luke Walton will continue in his preseason role of the Warriors interim head coach.
Both benches changed little during the off-season but one wouldn't know it by glancing at the active rosters. Although the Warriors will be at full strength, the Pelicans will be without Omer Asik, Tyreke Evans, Norris Cole and Quincy Pondexter. As David mentioned earlier, Alexis Ajinca and Luke Babbitt were not listed on the injury report, but it's too soon to tell if this is indicative of their health or a Pelicans bench that prefers additional bodies for insurance purposes.
A tall order made a little taller? At last check, the Warriors are favored by 9.5 points and will be receiving their championship rings during the pregame festivities. The crowd is going to happy and loud well before tip-off. So, is there anything the decimated birds can do to change the outcome of the first game of the 2016 regular season? If you're a person of strong faith, you bet!
First and foremost, Anthony Davis is going to have to be everywhere. All. The. Time. Remember how the Cleveland Cavaliers, or to be fair, LeBron James and several role players took two games from the eventual champs? Yeah, the Chosen One was unworldly, posting incredible usage rates in a dizzying amount of minutes.
I'm here to tell you Davis can and will have to approach that production. After a 27.8 USG% during the 2015 season, he bumped it up to 30.8% against the staunch defense of the Warriors in four straight April playoff games. This preseason, AD found another gear. His 34.7 USG% trailed only Damian Lillard and DeMarcus Cousins.
At the start of this month, I opined that Davis is primed to take another statistical jump, similar to Michael Jordan in his age-22 season. Everything seems to be pointing upwards and with the Pelicans missing their second highest usage player in Evans, I wouldn't be surprised to see something along the lines of a 40 point, 14 rebound, 4 assist, 5 block, 2 steal and 2 three-pointer game outta the Brow.
If Davis can provide approximately 40% of the necessary output towards a Pelicans win, the remaining roster has the ability to supply the rest.
It starts with Eric Gordon needing to have a strong game. Funny thing is, I'm mildly confident he will put forth a strong effort. During the first round playoff series, Gordon was the second most effective player behind Davis: 18.6 points, 3.3 threes, 2.3 rebounds and 3.8 assists. As we've mentioned, Gordon appears to have also rediscovered some of his old athleticism during the off-season. The signs are there he can act as Robin to Davis' Batman.
The rest of the mission will be up to the Pelicans ability to out-small ball the Warriors. Kendrick Perkins, bless his heart, will not nearly be as important as Ryan Anderson. For most of last season, the Flame Thrower was absent but that should not be the case starting Tuesday. His fitness and confidence levels are the highest they've been in several years, and as long as he can hold his own defensively, he'll be an asset.
In order for the smaller lineup to work, the Pelicans will have to do a good job on the defensive glass and the point guards will need to keep Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson on their heels immediately after they release their deadly jumpshots.
Jrue Holiday will look to set the tone. He's always had the ability, but for now, his health is also a positive. Although he'll be restricted, there is no reason why he won't be effective. During the preseason, he posted an impressive 27.9 PER and a solid 58.5 TS%. The only question that needs to be answered is how will his approximate 20 minutes of action be divied up. 7 minutes to start the game, 6 minutes out of halftime and then another 7ish to close the action?
During Holiday's rest, it will be pivotal how well Nate Robinson and possibly newcomer Ish Smith play in the remaining 28 minutes. Conceivably, the outcome of the game be in their hands. With Smith still learning the playbook and not having spent a minute with his new teammates, the Pelicans need to see good Krypto-Nate, not only adding to the scoring totals but keeping the pace up and keeping his other floor mates involved. New Orleans needs to get and make a number of good shot attempts from three-point territory.
Just as with any other successful underdog story, a lot of things will need to go right for the Pelicans to emerge victorious from the unlikeliest of circumstances. No, we shouldn't expect it and hopefully most fans don't walk away crushed, but it's the dawn of a new season. Anything can happen, especially with Anthony Davis looming large for one of the newest darlings in the Western Conference.