The New Orleans Pelicans will face James Harden and his merry men of three-point archers, including Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon, one final time this regular season on Friday.
In the teams’ last meeting, Solomon Hill was the undisputed star, posting the best all-around game numbers of his career: 30 points, six rebounds and seven assists. His performance, along with timely support from Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday, helped propel the Pelicans to a rout of the Rockets despite the absence of DeMarcus Cousins who was out with knee soreness and a right rib contusion.
Don’t expect things to go as smoothly in Houston even though Big Cuz, who is fresh off a sizzling 41-point, 17-rebound smackdown against the Grizzlies, to be in uniform. Houston has lost a grand total of just nine games on their turf. Additionally, the Rockets have beaten the Nuggets twice and Cavaliers once during the past two weeks, as well as won five of six, and their best player is on fire here in March.
Harden’s counting stats have been amazing throughout the season, but his shooting percentages this month are sublime: 49.8% from the field, 37.2% from deep and 83.8% from the foul line. When a player is getting to the foul line at over 11 times a game and a usual game includes 4+ made three-pointers, his supporting cast can get away with shooting a lot of blanks. And to top it all off, Harden now claims to feel as fast as Usain Bolt.
So, the Pelicans are going to need to come up with something special... again. Anyways, here’s what I’ll be watching:
The secret is out; the Pelicans offense has been on fire over the last six games. New Orleans has the 7th best offensive rating (110.9), the 8th highest true shooting percentage (57.4%), and they have scored the 4th most points (113.8). The problem is the Rockets have bettered them in all of these categories during the same time frame. No, the odds are good you’re not going to upset Houston solely concentrating on putting points on the board so defense and smart basketball are going to need to lend a big helping hand.
In their first meeting back in December, where Houston set a couple of NBA three-point records, New Orleans gave up an astounding 65 uncontested field goal attempts. That mark improved down to 47 attempts in the second go around, but a combination of too many uncontested misses by the Pelicans and a slew of turnovers leading to 34 fast break points for Houston gave way to an embarrassing 30-point defeat.
In their win one week ago, the Pelicans allowed a mere 40 uncontested looks and made more than half of their open shot attempts. Plus, the team’s 13 turnovers led to only 14 fast break points. The bottom line is a team can’t give the Rockets squad any lagniappes because it’ll unleash unstoppable juggernaut mode.
For instance, Cousins needs to be aware of the fact that those same driving lanes he enjoyed against the Grizzlies won’t be there against the quick hands of Patrick Beverley, Trevor Ariza and others. Jrue Holiday needs to maintain aggressiveness at all times and understand his perimeter shot is due to start dropping against the Rockets. (Did you know Jrue is 1-18 (5.6%) on three-point looks versus Houston this season?!) Lastly, if the role players are feeling rather shy once more, find Jordan Crawford. He’ll probably be the guy salivating at the chance of going toe-to-toe with Lou Williams.
What: New Orleans Pelicans at Houston Rockets
Where: Toyota Center — Houston, TX
When: March 24, 2017, 7:00 PM Central
How: Fox Sports New Orleans, Root Southwest, 99.5 FM WRNO