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NBA Preview: New Orleans Pelicans must end calendar year on positive note against New York Knicks

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Anthony Davis vs Kristaps Porzingis!

NBA: New York Knicks at New Orleans Pelicans Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

The New Orleans Pelicans (18-17) will seek to bounce back from a disappointing loss to the Dallas Mavericks on Friday evening with a victory tonight against the New York Knicks (17-18). Alvin Gentry’s squad would love nothing more than to close out the 2017 calendar year with a record above .500 in the standings.

Unlike the Mavericks, who were on a two-game winning streak and a top half tier team here in the month of December, the Knicks enter the Smoothie King Center limping — somewhat noticeably. New York has lost four games in a row and Kristaps Porzingis is struggling to regain his shooting touch that he displayed earlier in the season.

Since returning from a left knee injury, New York’s favorite unicorn has been mortal, averaging 18.6 points, 6.8 rebounds and 3.0 blocks on some very poor shooting: 34.4% from the field and 27.3% from behind the arc.

Despite a record similar to New Orleans, New York lacks top end talent around Porzingis. The trio of Enes Kanter, Michael Beasley and Courtney Lee have admirably tried to carry the load — all averaging in the neighborhood of 16 points over their team’s last six games, but the Knicks have eked out just one win over that span.

Tim Hardaway Jr. has missed the entire month and isn’t expected back for at least another week due to a stress injury in his left leg.

Three Keys to Victory

Focus on protecting the defensive glass. The Knicks are a very good offensive rebounding team, ranking third in the league in OREB% at 26.2%. Kanter is the primary worry, but Porzingis, Beasley and Kyle O’Quinn can all create second chance opportunities well. Not only must DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis staunchly chase down all defensive rebounds, their teammates need to make a concerted effort to hold the Knicks to one shot per possession. Gang rebound!

Force the Knicks to play uptempo. New York relies on Jarrett Jack and rookie Frank Ntilikina to handle the ball, neither of which are intimidating playmakers. Moreover, the Knicks have an identical turnover percentage to the Pels yet average the fewest three-point attempts in the league. Even if New Orleans gives up some easy ones in transition or other breakdowns, it’ll only cost them two points instead of three.

Start strong. The game against the Mavericks reminded us of the fact that the Pelicans have not eliminated sluggish starts from their repertoire. Any NBA team can win any given night when given a boost of confidence and momentum. Anthony Davis discussed a lack of communication, energy and physicality — New Orleans can’t let that happen a second consecutive night.

Geaux Pels — let’s enter 2018 with a winning record!

What: New Orleans Pelicans vs New York Knicks

Where: Smoothie King Center

When: December 30, 2017, 6:00 p.m. Central

How: FSNO, WRNO 99.5 FM