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Pelicans look to avenge early season loss to Magic

As New Orleans has already witnessed once, Orlando is no longer a pushover on the schedule.

Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

In the fourth game of the 2015-16 season, the New Orleans Pelicans fell 103-94 to the Orlando Magic. Many believed the Pelicans were going to win their first game of the year, but alas, an 0-4 start ensued.

As we feared at the time, the Magic were a wolf in sheep's clothing. They're a very respectable team as evidenced by a 17-13 record, and they occupy the 7th seed in the Eastern Conference.

Entering the season, Victor Oladipo was widely considered to be one of the faces of the franchise alongside Nikola Vucevic and Tobias Harris. However, shortly after returning from a concussion, Scott Skiles moved him to the bench, citing the need for better balance. Indeed, the spacing was rather limited with Oladipo and Elfrid Payton, two guards lacking a dependable outside shot.

The coach believed adding Channing Frye to the mix and moving Evan Fournier to shooting guard and Harris to small forward would make for a more natural starting lineup, and it seems to have paid dividends. Orlando won 5 straight games following the lineup change and are 11-5 overall.

Recently, though, the Magic have been having trouble on the defensive end. They've given up a field goal percentage of 49.4% or higher to opponents in the last 4 games. Their sixth-best points allowed per possession jumped to twelfth, and Skiles claims that he can't recall a bigger tumble down the league's ratings.

Winners 4 of their last 6, the Pelicans are playing their best ball of the season. During this time frame, they have a +3.5 Net Rating and the offense has been the 6th most efficient unit in the league (108.8 ORtg). Could they be the fifth NBA team in the row to take advantage of the Magic's defense?

3 Keys to Victory

  1. Slow down Tobias Harris. Vucevic is the leading scorer, but he's nearly as rock solid in Magic wins as losses. On the other hand, Harris' line seems quite determinative of outcomes. In Orlando wins, he has a shooting line stronger than 50/40/80 (FG% / 3FG% / FT%). In losses, Harris has a 42.4 FG%, a 20 3FG% and a 75.6 FT%. Although he struggled against the Pelicans back in November, he was being guarded by Anthony Davis while playing power forward. How well Alonzo Gee covers Harris Monday night could go a long way in determining the result.
  2. Keep Elfrid Payton out of the paint. His midrange game has improved some in his sophomore campaign, but he still would much rather prefer to shoot from much closer to the rim. If he can be made into a non-entity early, his energy level could significantly wane and the Magic would miss their best playmaker.
  3. Own the defense glass. The Magic are a top-10 offensive rebounding team. The Pelicans are 1-18 when they finish the game with less defensive rebounds than their opponent. Enough said.

What: New Orleans Pelicans at Orlando Magic

Where: Amway Center

When: December 28th, 6:00 PM

How: FSNO, WRNO 99.5 FM (Radio)

Enemy Data: Orlando Pinstriped Post