For the Pelicans, they must continue to rack up victories. Tied with the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Pels must keep pace to keep hold of their fate. Houston is in a tougher spot. After dropping back-to-back games to the streaking Spurs, the Rockets fell from 2nd in the West to 6th within the span of just three days. James Harden and company need to win out and get help to get back into the race for the Southwest Division crown and ensure better playoff seeding.
Injuries continue to batter both franchises. The Rockets welcomed a healthy Dwight Howard into the fold, and days later, lost Donatas Motiejunas and Patrick Beverley to season ending injuries. The Pelicans welcomed back Jrue Holiday after a 41 game absence and saw Anthony Davis head back to the locker room 80 seconds later.
Keys to Victory
Defend the Basket: The last time these two teams met Houston scored 62 points in the paint. 62! The Rockets made just nine field goals outside the paint all game but still pulled out a victory in the Smoothie King Center. That's not getting the job done on defense. Jrue Holiday will help but his minutes will be limited.
Make Your Free Throws: In a two point game, the Pelicans missed 12 free throws. Anthony Davis, shooting above 80% on the season, went 6-14. As The Bird Writes has mentioned several times, the entire team has been in a funk at the line in the past 10 games or so.
Don't Foul: James Harden makes a living at the foul line. Omer Asik, Anthony Davis, and Alexis Ajinca cannot commit silly or unnecessary fouls reaching or swiping at the ball on Harden's drives. Expecting a turn around from the guards defensively at this point is foolish. When Harden inevitably gets into the paint, the big men need to go straight up and make those attempts as difficult as possible without surrendering trips to the charity stripe. Verticality!!!
Keep Making Shots: Since the All-Star break, the Pelicans are 2nd in the league behind the arc and 3rd in assist rate. Quincy Pondexter hopefully got his one remaining cold game out of his system. He and Eric Gordon must stretch the Rocket defense so Tyreke Evans and Anthony Davis have room to operate in the paint. When Houston collapses, the Pelican shooters need to make their defense pay.
What: Pelicans at Rockets
Where: Toyota Center
When: April 12th, 6:00 PM
How: Fox Sports New Orleans, NBA League Pass