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NBA Preview: Pelicans look to bounce back from awful Nets loss against LeBron James

The Cleveland Cavaliers, losers of 4 of their last 6, visit New Orleans.

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Cleveland Cavaliers Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

The New Orleans Pelicans lost to the Brooklyn Nets last Friday. At home. By 29. Against a team that was 1-16 over their past 17 games. I mean, Zach pretty much nailed it when he said:

“Giving up 143 points ... at home ... to the worst team in the league? Classic Pels”

You know what would make it classic? Winning a bounce back game against a title contender. Lo and behold, Monday night features a matchup in Cleveland against the Cavaliers — the 2016 NBA world champions. It doesn’t get better than that. Well, it does, actually.

The Pels may not have Anthony Davis available.

Yup, when you think that things couldn’t get worse, they just might, though, this wouldn’t be the first time the Pelicans would be saddled with a crutch. About two years ago, during the 2014-15 NBA season, the Pels lost AD early in the 1st quarter and he wound up playing 7 minutes. But, the Pels pulled off the W thinks to some ridiculous hot shooting from former Pel Ryan Anderson.

The Pelicans are going to need the same explosion from someone if they want even a sliver of a chance to win against the Cavs, who just lost a close game against the Spurs, 115-118.

Despite the setback and the injury, I fully expect Anthony Davis to play vs the Cavs. Jim Eichenhofer did report that Alvin Gentry expects Davis will be fine despite missing several practices and hence available to help thwart LeBron James.

Not that I agree with it (it could be an extra day or two of rest for AD for a much more winnable game vs OKC). Nevertheless, AD’s made it a personal mission to play 70+ games this year. So far, he’s appeared in 41 — although in reality he’s only played 38 (he left early in at least 3 games I can remember). This is still pretty much probable (there are still 38 games left in the season) and with the Pelicans just 1.5 games out of the 8th spot, AD is going to be a good bet to suit up every time possible.

Whether that means we get world-devouring AD or just regular AD is the question. Even with AD at full strength, this team is an underdog against the Cavs so they’ll need someone to step up to the plate regardless.

The Pels have so many players that can explode, both a blessing and a curse. Between Galloway, Moore, Jones and, sometimes, Hill, the Pels have so many players who can come in and step up. Solo, in particular, is going to have his hands full against LeBron. His offensive game has become better as the months have passed (an annual Solomon Hill tradition, actually) — and this year isn’t any different. However, I’m looking more at Solo’s defensive work. He’s one of the few players in the league with the size and defensive instinct to defend LBJ on most of his spots.

More importantly, the Pels need to get back to their defensive ways. The Pelicans, owners of the 8th best (103.8 DRTG) defense in the league and the 4th (101.5 DRTG) best over the last 10 games, sucked versus Brooklyn. The typical switching scheme — which catapulted the Pels into the upper echelon of defensive teams — was not present.

I think the Pelicans are uniquely qualified to defend the 5th best offense in the league. They have a plethora of players who can defend Kevin Love (Hill, Dante Cunningham and Davis, if healthy). They have a plethora of players who can stay with Kyrie Irving and LeBron -- Jrue Holiday can defend LeBron in a pinch and Hill is agile enough and smart enough to defend Kyrie in a pinch — mitigating the effect of the destructive Kyrie-LeBron ball screens.

I think the biggest “key” for this game is Tristan Thompson. Despite sporting the 8th best DRB%, it feels like the Pels miss out on the important defensive rebounds. And, to a degree, it’s true. The Pels DRB% grows considerably worse as the game goes on: Starting strong in the 1Q (79.6 percent, 5th) and then slowly goes down (77 percent, 11th in the 2Q) and down (77.7 percent, 11th in the 3Q) until they ultimately collapse in the 4th (75.3 percent, 20th). Not good against the best, IMO, offensive rebounder in the league.

In their game at the start of January in Quicken Loans Arena, AD led the Pels with 20 points (on 27 shots though) and 16 rebounds, while Buddy exploded for 20 points (4 3PTM) and Jrue dropped an 11 and 13. Can the Pels get sweet revenge and get back into the win column?

What: Pelicans vs. Cavaliers

Where: Smoothie King Center - New Orleans, LA

When: January 23rd, 2017 at 7:00 PM Central

How: Fox Sports New Orleans, FSOH, WRNO - 99.5 FM