On November 20th, the Pelicans shocked the NBA world. After starting the season with just a single win in their first eleven tries, they managed to knock off the Spurs in rather convincing fashion, 104-90. They played their most complete game to date, thoroughly dominating a legitimate championship contender in a number of facets. Anthony Davis was good (20 points/18 rebounds on 23 shots), but Ryan Anderson stole the show (30 points, 7 rebounds, 6 threes).
Admittedly, the Spurs were not yet terrifying the league. The loss to the Pelicans marked their third one on road in seven attempts. This time around, though, the matchup will take place in San Antonio. That's a huge problem because the Spurs have yet to lose a game inside the AT&T Center. Yep, they're a perfect 26-0.
Popovich's crew has the best plus/minus of any squad at home (+16.7) which shouldn't be a surprise as they're elite in a host of categories. They are the top shooting team (49.5 FG%) and commit the least amount of personal fouls. They are second in the league in turnovers, three-point field goal percentage and defensive rebounds. In essence, don't count on the wily group of veterans to beat themselves.
On the other side of the spectrum, the Pelicans have registered five wins in twenty-three away games. Their 21.7 road win percentage is on pace to be worst in franchise history since the ugly 2004-05 season when the then-Hornets won only seven times on the road and eighteen times overall.
3 Keys to Victory
- More Divine Intervention. The Pelicans are halfway there (which probably isn't saying much). Tim Duncan has missed five of the last six games, and in two of the games, the Spurs suffered humiliating losses. Sure, they came against the Warriors and Cavaliers, but make no mistake, Duncan is the center of their vaunted defense. According to ESPN's Real Plus Minus, he is the best defensive player in the league, and the Pelicans are fortunate he has already been ruled out -- their odds of victory have climbed from 0.000000000001% to 0.1%. Honestly, here's to hoping he doesn't miss too much time. It'd be a lousy way for one of the all-time greats, known for his durability, to limp his way to the finish in possibly his final season.
- Get easy points. In the Spurs recent two losses, they were outscored 104-82 in the paint. The Warriors forced 26 turnovers that led to 32 points. As I've mentioned, great veteran teams will not beat themselves so the Pelicans need to find a way to rack up more bunnies. Can Alvin Gentry and the rest of the coaching staff produce a gameplan that helps the team pull off a minor miracle?
- Shutdown Tony Parker. In Spurs' wins, Parker has shot lights out (a 54.4 field goal percentage and 44.8 three-point percentage) and been a solid playmaker (3.3 ast/tov ratio). In losses, those figures drop to 40.5 FG%, 33.3 3FG% and 2.4 assists-turnovers. Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge are more often immune to a bad game so the Pelicans defense needs to try to curtail Parker. After Monday's disappointing game, Jrue Holiday could really make up for things by not only getting back to his efficient offensive ways but shrouding Parker as he has James Harden this season.