Don't look now, but the New Orleans Pelicans are playing some really good basketball. Anthony Davis is leading the charge, Tyreke Evans is spacing the floor and providing solid playmaking with the starters while Jrue Holiday has given the Pelicans a nice, two-way wing off the bench. That trio seems to be the lighting rod for the Pelicans at this moment, as the Pelicans are winners of five of their last six and looking to continue their run.
As a result, New Orleans' defensive statistics are beginning to shine, going from the bottom of the league to sixth overall in the last 15 games. We'll discuss the opponents, good or bad, and other factors that have led to the turnaround at a later time, but for now, it's good to see them take a step forward on that end. There are additional factors to that, such as Dante Cunningham's toughness, Omer Asik's work around the rim and Alonzo Gee's energy. It's good to finally see them respond to Gentry and their desire to improve.
The Rockets have to rank among the top of the league's disappointment list. After making the Western Conference Finals last season, the Rockets brought back most of their roster, and added the talent of Ty Lawson at the point guard position. Lawson was a dangerous addition after his problems in Denver, but the thought was that Houston's core would help him overcome his issues, thereby giving them an additional piece for one last push atop the Western Conference.
It didn't happen. Kevin McHale was let go after 11 games and the Rockets currently sport a 23-22 record. Although James Harden is coming off two triple-doubles in four games (with 15+ rebounds, too. Always love when stars do that), he's taken a step back overall on both ends of the floor. Dwight Howard is having a decent, but not great season and the role players have all seemingly regressed including Trevor Ariza, Marcus Thornton, Terrence Jones and Patrick Beverley.
The Rockets currently reside in the seventh seed in the West, just 6.5 games ahead of New Orleans, so this game is as important for them as it is the Pelicans attempt to move up the standings.
Keys to Victory
- Get the ball out of James Harden's hands - Harden is still one of the best players in the league and he's in the midst of a hot streak. Forcing other players to beat you sounds like the way to go and gives you a better chance to stop the Rockets on your home floor.
- Jrue Holiday, Tyreke Evans and Anthony Davis - The Pelicans need a strong performance from their entire team, but Jrue would be a good candidate to have a monster performance. I feel Alvin Gentry should run a bit more of Holiday-Evans-Davis together and try to run the Rockets off the floor. Their 23rd ranked defense should be attacked and Holiday is one of the players that can help in that regard.
- Embrace Hack-A-Dwight- Dwight is only taking eight shots a game, but he can still catch fire from time to time. I'm opposed to Hack-A-Dwight because it slows the game down for the viewer, but I do find it as an interesting strategy in a possible effort to slow down their offense. The Pelicans have a handful of fouls to burn, so I'm in favor of using them and getting Houston's eighth-ranked offense out of sync.