Before we get to tonight's preview, let's first have a moment of silence for the Pelicans' winless record. New Orleans decided to not run the table the wrong way and go 0-82, which is frankly a tad bit disappointing. I believe that if you're going to do anything ineptly, you should do it big, but alas the Pelicans won anyway. My apologies to the 2008 Detroit Lions and 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, you won't be getting a new member of the famed Imperfect Season Club. But hey, don't count out the Sixers or Nets just yet.
Now on to happier news: the Pelicans finally made their first appearance in the win column last night, drubbing Dallas 120-105 in a game that wasn't as close as the score indicated. The Pelicans were Alabama and the the Mavericks were LSU if you will. Too soon?
The bad news is that the Pelicans now have to snap back to reality (oh there goes gravity) and play a good Atlanta team on the road the night after getting their first win of 2015. Even worse is that they could be doing so without Anthony Davis because he suffered a hip contusion during the win. Nobody ever said life was fair. They beat Dallas, but lose Anthony Davis because of course. This is like if Charlie Brown finally got to kick the football but tore his ACL in the process. At least he was spotted on the flight to Atlanta so there is hope!
The Hawks meanwhile recently saw their seven game win streak snapped by the Minnesota Timber Wolves Monday night 117-107. The Pelicans were victimized by the Hawks during that said win streak, falling at home 121-115. The Pelicans led after the first quarter and only scored five fewer points than Atlanta in the second half, but the Hawks' 32-19 scoring margin in the second quarter proved to be too big a deficit for New Orleans to overcome.
Anthony Davis had the best game of his season against Atlanta, tying a career high 43 points and grabbed 10 rebounds. Eric Gordon contributed 22 points and knocked down three three-pointers, and Ish Smith handed out 11 assists but had an inefficient night shooting the ball: it took 11 shots for Smith to score his eight points and he failed to get to the free throw line.
In their win, the Hawks got healthy contributions from just about every single player who dressed. All five starters scored 10+ points; Paul Millsap and Kyle Korver each scored 22 points for Atlanta. In fact, the two combined to shoot 79 percent from the floor; Korver was 8-8 (4-4 from three) and Millsap 7-11. Dennis Schroder led all bench players with 15 points including knocking down three of his four three point attempts.
As simple as it sounds, one of the main reasons New Orleans came up short against Atlanta is because the Hawks made more of their shots. While New Orleans hit on 50 percent of their shots from the floor, Atlanta converted 53 percent of theirs. The Pelicans also lost the battle at the three point line, shooting 33 percent compared to Atlanta's 43 percent. The Hawks were also able to get to the free throw line more often, shooting 35 attempts; the Pelicans only took 24 free throws. In a high scoring game where the point differential was a mere six points, things like that add up.
The Hawks have been an offensive juggernaut this season. All five of Atlanta's starters are averaging double digit points. They're fifth in both points scored and field goal percentage and seventh in three point shooting; they're second only to Golden State in assists per game. Now in year three under head coach Mike Budenholzer, these Hawk players understand their roles offensively and the system is being run to near perfection thanks to the stellar guard play of Jeff Teague, Korver and Schroder.
Atlanta's 7-2 start has them seated right behind Cleveland in the East and they appear prime to have another stellar season on the heels of last year. But there seems to be a growing rift between the Hawks' players and coaching staff. Just look:
Keys to Victory
1. Attack the Glass
This is easier said than done because if Anthony Davis has to miss tonight's game, do the Pelicans have any legitimate rebounders left? Omer Asik started but only played 16 minutes last night and Alexis Ajinca appeared in five minutes of garbage time. If the three bigs can play, however, they should be able to play their own game of hungry-hungry-hippos and gobble up as many rebounds as they please because the Hawks are 29th in rebounding. To their credit Atlanta owned a 41-32 rebounding advantage in the game at the Smoothie King Center. If the Pelicans can reverse that statistic, perhaps they can avenge their loss.
2. Limit Atlanta Free Throws
When Atlanta gets to the line, they rarely miss. As a team, the Hawks are shooting about 82 percent which is good for fourth in the league. But one major factor determining if Atlanta is victorious is how often they get to the line. In Atlanta's seven wins this year, they shot 22 free throws. In their two losses the attempts were cut in half to 11. Want to beat Atlanta? Keeping them off the line is a good place to start.
3. Ryan Anderson
Anderson has been arguably the best player for New Orleans this year. He finally seems to be healthy and as a result he's leading all bench players in scoring. Who would've thought that "health" and "contract year" could make someone so productive? Anderson will be especially important tonight for New Orleans if Anthony Davis can't go. Anderson put up 25 and 11 on 10 of 16 shooting against the Mavericks. One of his makes came when he simply out-hustled all five Mavericks on the floor for a put back after an Alonzo Gee missed three-pointer. The Pelicans will need that kind of effort from Anderson, all the players really, if they want to go and beat one of the East's best at their place.
Hey, I'm not saying that the reason the Pelicans beat Dallas is because a certain polarizing figure has returned to the Crescent City. But what I am saying is that with Jimmer Fredette on the roster the Pelicans are 1-0. Without him they are 0-6. #FactsOnly.
Finally notching their first win is, obviously, huge for New Orleans. Hearing that X-rays on Davis' hip came back negative is just as important. Even if Davis can't go, I like New Orleans chances of pulling the upset. Playing on the second night of a back-to-back isn't easy, but I think the relief of getting that first win can provide an extra little boost of energy and can power them to stealing a win. Last night was the best they've looked all season, especially on the defensive end and I'm expecting them to repeat that performance.