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Pelicans hope to keep rolling against hapless Brooklyn Nets

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If Anthony Davis can go, all will be well. If not, New Orleans will need to find points from an unlikely source.

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at New York Knicks Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The New Orleans Pelicans will try to keep pace for the eighth seed in the West with another win in the Big Apple. Up next, the struggling Brooklyn Nets, who have lost eight straight games and rank last in the NBA with a -7.7 net rating. Just two games during the most recent Nets losing streak were decided by single digits as even the Philadelphia 76ers managed to beat them in Barclays Center by ten points this past Sunday.

One big obstacle in the Pelicans way is an injury suffered by Anthony Davis Monday against the New York Knicks. After tumbling into the stands (with significant help from Kyle O’Quinn), Davis knocked down a couple free throws before exiting the game with 40 points and 18 rebounds in just 29 minutes. O’Quinn was called for a flagrant two and ejected, subsequently earning himself a $25,000 fine. Davis is questionable according to the most recent injury report.

If Davis cannot play, it will be very interesting to see who starts at center. Brook Lopez is still averaging 20 points a game and has added 3-point range to his repertoire where he’s shooting 36.3% on over five attempts per game. That’s not exactly conducive to inserting either Omer Asik or Alexis Ajinca back into the lineup. Might Donatas Motiejunas find himself in the starting lineup after just two games on the roster? I wouldn’t rule it out.

Best case obviously is that Davis can go, and the Pelicans can continue unleashing their small ball lineup on hapless opponents. Since Alvin Gentry went to the small ball lineup, New Orleans is 4-3, but the starters are absolutely mauling the opposition. In 92 minutes over seven games the starting unit of Jrue Holiday, Buddy Hield, Solomon Hill, Dante Cunningham, and Davis is posting a respectable 104.6 ORtg and an amazing 81.0 DRtg for a ridiculous +23.6 net rating. (Note, the pace is also substantially slower at 96.40, which would rank 25th in the league.) Holiday+Hield+Hill+Cunningham+Davis has been one of the best lineups in the entire league overall, and the best defensively, since Christmas.

92 minutes might not seem like much but just one lineup last season logged more minutes. It featured Alonzo Gee at small forward. Yes. I’m sorry.

Keys to Victory

Anthony Davis: If Davis can’t go, it isn’t hard to see the Pelicans struggling mightily to put the ball in the basket. Alternatively, should Davis be healthy enough to play, the Nets do not have a single player on their roster who has a chance to defend him. Brook Lopez, Luis Scola, and Justin Hamilton are far too slow to keep up with Davis. Anthony Davis is in line for a massive stat line if injury does not hold him out of the lineup.

Take advantage of turnovers: Brooklyn is playing at the fastest pace in the NBA according to Basketball Reference and NBA Stats. Two factors boost their pace; they rank 27th in offensive rate and 30th in turnover rate. Ignoring the offensive glass means few long possessions and turning the ball over at such a prodigious rate allows opponents to get quick possessions in transition. Brooklyn is allowing 20.9 points off turnovers and 15.5 fast break points per game.

Knock ‘em down: Since December 1st, Buddy Hield is shooting 50% (47/94) behind the arc. Dante Cunningham (41.2% - 14/34), E’Twaun Moore (39.2% - 20/52), Langston Galloway (37.1% - 43/116), and Solomon Hill (34.5% - 20/58) are all chipping in from 3-point land as well. Keep knocking those open looks down to punish teams for collapsing on Anthony Davis.

What: Pelicans vs. Nets

Where: Barclays Center - Brooklyn, NY

When: January 12th, 2017 at 6:30 PM Central

How: Fox Sports New Orleans, 99.5 FM WRNO