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NBA Preview: Pelicans look to keep winning on the road against Pacers

Two straight on the road is good. Three would be even better!

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Chicago Bulls Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

After two days of rest, the New Orleans Pelicans look to keep the winning streak alive against the Indiana Pacers. Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins, who each logged over 80 minutes a piece on the Pelicans first back-to-back of the season, surely enjoyed the down time. They’ll face a Pacers team returning home after a long road trip of their own and smarting after a late game collapse against the New York Knicks on Sunday night.

Indiana has been a bit of a surprise, ripping off victories over the Minnesota Timberwolves (without Jimmy Butler), San Antonio Spurs (without Kawhi Leonard), and Cleveland Cavaliers (lacking both direction and heart). There is one constant in every single Pacers victory: winning the battle on the glass. They’re 5-1 when they rebound at least 50% of misses and 0-4 when they fail to out-rebound their opponent. New Orleans has won the rebounding battle in seven of their first ten games.

These teams may feel a bit like looking in the fun house mirror when they take the floor. The Pelicans rank 22nd in ORtg and 9th in DRtg, Indiana is 5th in ORtg and 21st in DRtg. Newly acquired Victor Oladipo is leading the attack for the Pacers, scoring 23.8 points per game while bombing away behind the arc and attacking the rim with the ferocity expected of him when he came out of Indiana (University) in 2013. However, the real engine behind the Pacers offense is veteran point guard Darren Collison. He leads the team in plus-minus (alongside Domantas Sabonis) and Collison’s 4.3 assist-to-turnover ratio helps tell the story. Add into the rotation Cory Joseph and head coach Nate McMillan always has a point guard on the floor he can trust to keep things organized. Indiana has played just 12 minutes all season without one of Collison or Joseph on the court.

One contributing factor to the Pacers recent woes is reintegrating center Myles Turner into the lineup. Turner missed seven straight games due to a concussion and his return to the starting lineup pushed Sabonis back onto the bench. Injuries to rookie power forward T.J. Leaf (out tomorrow) and Sabonis (questionable) soon followed.

Three Keys to Victory

Defend the 3-point line: Oladipo (44.6%), Bojan Bogdanovic (40%), and Thaddeus Young (39.5%) are all hot behind the arc. Cory Joseph (60.9%) might melt steel beams. Might they be due for some regression? Sure. Is it wise to let a team that is currently 6th in the NBA in 3-point percentage see a bunch of open looks in their home building? Absolutely not.

Attack the glass: Indiana ranks 25th in the NBA in defensive rebounding percentage. They’re 0-4 when they lose the rebounding battle. New Orleans has both DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis on the roster. Additionally, the Pacers rank 3rd in transition possessions. Crashing the glass (effectively) can simultaneously create extra possessions and get the Pacers to commit more bodies to corral rebounds, reducing their ability to get out on the break.

Role player contributor of the night: Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins are going to produce. They’ll put points and rebounds on the board in bunches. What the Pelicans need is a role player or two to step up. Maybe tonight it’s Jrue Holiday, matched up against his former backcourt mate at UCLA, who will step up. After all, it is in part thanks to a fan at UCLA misidentifying Holiday as Collison (and asking for an autograph!) that aided in Jrue meeting his eventual wife, USWNT star Lauren.

During his freshman year at UCLA, Jrue Holiday went to watch a women's basketball game. While he was approaching his seat in the stands, a young fan stopped him to ask whether he was Darren Collison and whether she could get his autograph.

He explained that he wasn't Collison and went to take his seat when a woman behind him said with a smile, "Don't worry, you're cuter than Darren is."

That woman was Lauren Cheney, whom you now know as Lauren Holiday. Star midfielder on the U.S women's soccer team, former UCLA standout and clearly a master pickup artist.

You can’t make this stuff up!

Truly, the key to the Pelicans long term is Jrue Holiday playing up to the ability he’s shown before. After what felt like a breakout performance against the Cavaliers (29 points, 7 assists, 4 rebounds, and just one turnover), Holiday has gone ice cold behind the arc, missing 14 consecutive attempts. If Jrue can get back on track behind the arc (a trip to the free throw line or two might help!), the offense around the two bigs becomes much more dangerous.

What: Pelicans at Pacers

When: November 6, 2017 at 6:00 PM Central

Where: Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, IN

How: Fox Sports New Orleans, WRNO 99.5 FM