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NBA Preview: New Orleans Pelicans to tango with Kemba Walker and Charlotte Hornets

Pels making a move up the standings but Hornets have been equally as good in January. Trap game?

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Charlotte Hornets Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports

The New Orleans Pelicans are a season-best four games above .500 thanks to a rather soft spot in the schedule. Aside from a slight hiccup in Atlanta, New Orleans has won five of six and are a mere game and a half back of Oklahoma City for fifth place in the West. New Orleans’ latest win was owed in large part to DeMarcus Cousins’ doing his best Kareem impression. Next, the Pelicans head east to take on the Charlotte Hornets.

Charlotte has been a bit of a disappointment and things appear to be getting messier by the day despite the team playing it’s best ball here in January. Hornets’ General Manager Rich Cho has reportedly encouraged teams to make their best offer for point guard Kemba Walker, a 2017 All-Star and the current face of the franchise. However, the arguably top-five player in franchise history does not want out of Charlotte; but because Cho is trying to purge Charlotte’s books of ugly contracts belonging to players like Nicolas Batum, Dwight Howard and others, getting rid of Walker seems to be the only means of getting those bad deals unloaded.

If the Hornets were playing winning basketball, it’d be easier to swallow those bad contracts. The problem is they aren’t. The Hornets are 19-26 but are playing better basketball of late, winning six of their last nine. Nice.

Walker’s numbers are down from his first All-Star appearance last season, but they’re still upper-echelon: 22 points and six assists. Dwight Howard’s having one of his better seasons in recent memory with 18 points, 15 rebounds and nearly two blocks a game, but the whole “$23 million a year” thing bogs him down.

That’s basically the Hornets in a nutshell: talented pieces individually, but they’re all making way too much money. Dwight’s making nearly $24 million; Nicolas Batum is at $22 million; Marvin Williams and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist each make $13 million. Even Cody Zeller gets paid more than Kemba Walker, I mean come on.

When you have Dwight Howard, you can expect to be a good rebounding team and Charlotte is indeed one. The Hornets are second in overall rebounding, eighth in offensive and best in the league at grabbing defensive boards. I imagine watching Howard, Cousins and Anthony Davis battle for rebounds will be like watching Grawp fight those other giants in the last Harry Potter movie. Just a couple of dudes that are big as hell smashing into each other.

If you want to beat the Hornets, pay attention to the three-point line. In their wins, the Hornets are shooting almost 41 percent from the line; in games they lose, that number drops all the way down to 32 percent. And as backwards as it sounds, let Kemba try and beat New Orleans by himself. The Hornets are 28th in assists; in the 26 games they’ve lost, they average fewer than 20 assists a night. If New Orleans can keep Kemba from getting his overpaid teammates involved, they should be well on their way to win No. 26.

Geaux Pels!

What: New Orleans Pelicans at Charlotte Hornets

Where: Spectrum Center

When: January 24, 2018, 6:00 p.m. Central

How: FSNO, WRNO 99.5 FM