On Monday night, the New Orleans Pelicans will start a 2-game home stand against the Boston Celtics. Boston has won 4 of their last 6 games, but lost Saturday to the San Antonio Spurs by a slim 108-105 margin. Conversely, the Pelicans snapped their 4-game losing streak against the Cleveland Cavaliers Friday with an impressive 114-108 overtime victory.
Although the Celtics are 11-9 and currently tied for 9th in the Eastern Conference, they have the sixth best Net Rating in the league. This is not a team to be taken lightly. If New Orleans remembers from their two losses last season, they are a scrappy bunch led by their head coach, Brad Stevens.
They have been carried by their undersized starting perimeter group of Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder. Over their last 6 games, the trio has averaged 53.7 points on better than a 45 FG% with each player knocking down better than two three-pointers a game.
Indeed, ESPN's NBA Real Plus-Minus are huge fans of the group. Thomas comes in 11th among PG's, Avery Bradley 14th and Crowder 6th amid fellow small forwards. On the other hand, the front court continues from last season to be the question mark with no player averaging more than 25 minutes of playing time outside of Jared Sullinger (25.1 min/g).
As a team, the Boston Celtics are a very good defensive team, ranking 3rd in defensive rating (97.1). In their wins, that number improves to 89.1, the best in the league. The Pelicans can ill afford to have an off-shooting night, especially when they find themselves open. It should help, though, that Darren Erman should be able to prepare New Orleans for what they'll see against the Celtics. In my opinion, his in-depth knowledge of their system has a good chance of being the determining factor in the outcome of the game. Hope the Pelicans heed every one of his words.
3 Keys to Victory
- Protect the basketball. The Celtics force the most turnovers in the NBA (19.0) thanks to their league-leading 11.3 steals. Although Marcus Smart remains sidelined, Boston has plenty more theft specialists on the roster with Crowder's 2.2 swipes leading the way. The Pelicans normally take care of the basketball (9th in TOV), but as seen recently against the Rockets, New Orleans can find trouble against quick teams who look to force the issue defensively. Stay aware guys!
- Win the three-point battle. New Orleans averages 25.8 three-point attempts a game (11th); however, Boston's 28.3 attempts (4th) are stronger on paper. Though the Pelicans shoot at a better clip, they are significantly worse than the Celtics when asked to defend the three-point shot. New Orleans 39.1 3FG% ranks dead last in the association.
- Pound the offensive glass. Alvin Gentry doesn't like to have his players hit the offensive glass, but he may want to reconsider the strategy against the Celtics. Boston is dead last in defensive rebounds when examining losses only. This makes sense -- they prefer playing small and fast. If opponents are collecting their own misses and converting them for easy looks, the Celtics have no chance to push the pace for unabated scores. I don't think every Pelican should be asked to grab all their misses, but Gentry should have at a minimum slower footed Pelicans like Omer Asik and Ryan Anderson (two players who are not going to stop a fast break anyways) seek to prolong possessions. It wouldn't hurt to have Anthony Davis pick his spots either. No on that roster individually should be able to consistently disrupt anything AD wants to do.