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Game Preview: Pelicans Look to Stop the Jazz

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Can the team leading the NBA in passing be stopped from playing their beautiful music?

Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

The Pelicans find themselves just one game back of the Phoenix Suns entering tonight, currently tied in the loss column. New Orleans is 7-3 in their last ten games while the Suns are 4-6 and the Thunder are 5-5. What appears to be a lull in the difficulty of the schedule, only one (Toronto on February 23rd) of their next eight opponents are above .500. Despite what you may have read, the Pelicans have taken care of business against sub .500 teams, racking up a 13-8 record. It is critical to their playoff aspirations to win the majority of their upcoming games against lesser opponents.

Of course, the Pelicans will not be at 100% for these games. Jrue Holiday remains out with a stress reaction, although his return after the All-Star Break is beginning to gain some steam. Without their second best player, it would be nice if New Orleans had the services of their one All-Star. Unfortunately, news on that front is still not positive.

We have seen this Pelican team without Holiday and Davis produce wildly different outcomes. A recent win over the Los Angeles Clippers on the positive end; humiliating losses to both the Philadelphia 76ers and New York Knicks on a disastrous road trip. As Kevin Garnett once said, anything is possible.

Keys to Victory

Initiate Quickly: When the Pelicans are playing well, the first action of each possession occurs relatively quickly within the shot clock. New Orleans has a habit schematically of walking the ball up, some initial confusion on what the play call should be and where each player should start, and then the play starting with 14 seconds or fewer remaining. While there are times this strategy could make a great deal of sense, with a significant lead in the fourth quarter for instance, other times it become a detriment. Even without Anthony Davis, this team should look to begin their offense early to create a greater possibility for high quality shots.

Make Shots: New Orleans is now 24-2 when they have a better field goal percentage than their opponent. Rebounding, turnovers, or scoring more than 100 points do not have nearly the effect on winning that making shots does for this team. The last time the Pelicans played Utah they won in great part due to making open shots. Ryan Anderson and Anthony Davis went a combined 14-18 on uncontested shots and the team altogether made 21-31. On Saturday the team went 11-34 on uncontested shots.

Play Those Passing Lanes: No one passes the ball more than the Utah Jazzaveraging 370.8 passes per game. It should come as no surprise then that the Pelicans, on 100 fewer passes, average more assists and fewer turnovers per game. The Jazz look to move the ball around the perimeter with "empty" passes that rarely stress the defense or create scoring opportunities. Those passes do have the potential to lead to Pelican transition baskets. Within reason New Orleans should try to take advantage of lazy ball rotations to get some cheap points.

What: Pelicans vs Jazz

Where: The Smoothie King Center

When: February 9th, 7:00 PM

How: Fox Sports New Orleans, League Pass