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NBA preview: Pelicans kick off 2017 in Cleveland with date against LeBron James and Cavaliers

Can the new small ball strategy by NBAtv’s team of the week get the upset victory against the World Champions?

NBA: Cleveland Cavaliers at New Orleans Pelicans Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

The New Orleans Pelicans (14-21) play the Cleveland Cavaliers (25-7) Monday night inside the Quicken Loans Arena. The game will be televised on Fox Sports New Orleans and Fox Sports Ohio with tip-off expected shortly after 6:00pm CST. WRNO 99.5 FM will also broadcast the live action over the radio waves.

Believe it or not, the Pelicans are 2-2 against the Cavaliers since LeBron James returned home several years ago. On the strength of 31 points, 12 rebounds and 4 steals by Anthony Davis, New Orleans beat the Cavaliers by a 114-108 margin on December 4, 2015. Almost exactly one year prior, the Pelicans knocked them off yet again as both Tyreke Evans and Ryan Anderson combined for 61 points and 10 three-pointers. The problem is, both of the wins came inside the Smoothie King Center.

Or is it?

The Pelicans are on a bit of a role, winners of 4 in a row and 5 of their last 6. In fact, NBAtv named them the team of the week late Sunday evening, applauding the move to small ball with Davis occupying the center position. Both Steve Smith and Brent Barry also mentioned that the returns of Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans have played a key role in the team’s recent surge.

Playing the World Champions at their place is not going to be easy, but the Pelicans have done surprisingly well against the Eastern Conference so far this year. They boast an 8-3 record that includes 5 wins over teams sitting inside the playoff seedings. Can they make it 6?

What to watch:

Easy points. In their last two victories on the schedule, the Pelicans have scored 59 of their 206 points via the fast break. They totaled 18 fast break points in last year’s win against a Cavaliers team that had allowed an average of 10.6 fbps. Easy points matter, especially for a New Orleans team fielding a bottom-5 offense. Can the small-ball units maintain their running, scoring ways?

The health of the Big 3. LeBron James is the best player in the NBA with Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving giving the King all the support he needs...normally. In the Cavaliers’ previous game, Irving sat out due to a small hamstring issue — this after he wasn’t expected to miss any time following a win vs the Boston Celtics. With J.R. Smith already on the shelf, no Irving would represent a sizable health advantage in favor of the Pelicans.

Corner 3’s. The Cavaliers are very good at attempting and converting three-point shots, especially from the corners. Simply put, New Orleans isn’t so where will the Pelicans make up the difference in points? More than likely it won’t be from the free throw line as Cleveland is one of the best in the league at preventing trips to the charity stripe.

Geaux Pelicans!!!!!