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NBA Preview: Pelicans host Magic in a game set to feature key injuries and bad offense

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New Orleans looks to start a 6-game homestand on a good note and avenge the earlier loss in Orlando.

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Orlando Magic Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Two bad offensive teams square off on Wednesday night at the Smoothie King Center as the New Orleans Pelicans (16-26) kick off a six-game homestand against the Orlando Magic (17-26). Both teams are tied for fourth-worst in offensive rating and, due to injury concerns on both teams, the final score could be pretty low.

Anthony Davis suffered a brutal fall in Monday afternoon’s loss against the Indiana Pacers — as of now, AD is listed as questionable by PelicansPR.

The Magic, meanwhile, have two players listed as questionable, as well: newly-inked big man Bismack Biyombo and combo-guard Evan Fournier. Fournier’s absence especially hurts Orlando’s O, as he is one of few options to both create and shoot. He’s averaging a team-high 17.0 points and 33.0 minutes per game, shooting exceptionally well from mid-range and averaging nearly 4 assists per 36 minutes. Pairing him with point guard Elfrid Payton offers some help, but without Fournier, Payton’s lack of shooting range can hurt spacing, although...

Payton’s Been Good! Sort of.

The third-year guard from Louisiana-Lafayette (born in Gretna) has made incremental increases in his offensive game this season, as a whole, but he’s also had multiple phases of ineffectiveness this year. After starting the first 16 games, Payton was relegated to the bench for awhile before returning to the starting-five 7 games ago. Since coming back, Payton has had games of 28 points (career-high), 9 rebounds (also a career-high) and 9 assists against Utah in a close loss, and 20 points and 12 assists in another loss, this time to Denver. But he’s also had some stinkers, notably two bad games in a row in Los Angeles against both the Clippers and Lakers.

Payton’s play could hurt the Pelicans, although no one player on this roster can really turn losses into wins. The Magic seem to lack cohesion on the roster with Aaron Gordon attempting to play the 3, and Nicola Vucevic, Biyombo and Serge Ibaka rotating at the 4 and 5 spots.

Big Problem

Despite having 3 big dudes who all get mucho playing time, the Magic rank in the middle of the league in rebounding percentage and further down than that in defensive rating, which must be disappointing for GM Rob Hennigan and coach Frank Vogel. Serge Ibaka is averaging 15 points and 7 rebounds, but until he can dribble and pass, he’s going to remain limited offensively — as an OKC fan, I can tell you: this guy cannot dribble AT ALL. Don’t let him essentially play shooting guard; make him put it on the floor.

Vucevic is one of those names that divides fans and media-types: some say he’s a cornerstone big man for Orlando, and many of his raw stats bear this out. He’s among the all-time Magic leaders in points, field goals, rebounds and blocked shots, but his defense and fit alongside various teammates has been oft-criticized. Over his 6-year career, his defensive rating is actually better than his offensive numbers, though, so what’s the deal? I’m no Vucevic expert; Googling “Nikola Vucevic defense” leads to plenty of stories of redemption for the Man from Montenegro. Let’s see how he does against our powerhouse bigs like... um... Terrence Jones... and, let’s see here... Donatas Motiejunas! This guy might hurt us if AD is absent.

Next is Biyombo who, for some reason, was signed ($72m over 4 years) by the Magic after they already had Vucevic, Ibaka and Gordon on the roster. For all the offensive polish of Vucevic’s game, Biyombo is the opposite, giving them an intense, defensive-minded rim-running big... if they could surround him with shooters, things might work out better.

And although he’s listed as a small forward, Aaron Gordon is a potential star-in-waiting at the 4 with ridiculous hops and an expanding offensive repertoire. Just 21 years old in his third NBA season, Gordon has raised his 3-point shooting percent each year (while also taking more 3s) and is shooting a ridiculous 71.9 percent at the rim this year (he can dunk, in case you forgot):

Can Nola put it together for 48 full minutes? Let’s see what happens when the game tips tomorrow at 7 p.m. in the CBD! For those not in attendance, tune into Fox Sports New Orleans, Fox Sports Florida or WRNO 99.5 FM.

Geaux Pelicans!