The New Orleans Pelicans (4-0) will close out a rather enjoyable home stand tonight against the Utah Jazz (2-2) before departing on a grueling five-game swing through the backyards of the biggest hitters in the Western Conference.
The Jazz entered the month of October as a preseason contender for a top-four seed in the Western Conference, according to Sports Illustrated and ESPN. The decision was with good reason too, after watching Rookie of the Year candidate Donovan ‘Spida’ Mitchell and Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert slay their opponents left and right en route to a 29-6 regular season finish, and an easy first-round victory over Russell Westbrook, Paul George, and the Oklahoma City Thunder.
But the rookie scoring sensation and elite rim protector aren’t the only tools that make this ensemble one of the league’s best. Joe Ingles controlled Paul George like few ever have in their postseason matchup last year. Per Andy Bailey of SLC Dunk:
Robert Covington, Otto Porter, LeBron James and Kevin Durant are the only small forwards who topped Joe Ingles in ESPN’s Real Plus-Minus in 2017-18. He was 25th in the NBA among all players in RPM.
Among players with at least 500 career three-point attempts, Joe Ingles is fourth in NBA history in Effective Field Goal Percentage. He’s third among the 396 players with at least 1,000 three-point attempts.
Stephen Curry’s career Effective Field Goal Percentage: 57.9. Joe Ingles’ career Effective Field Goal Percentage: 57.9!
Ingles will give the Pelicans problems on the perimeter and has the size to E’Twaun Moore a lot of problems defensively.
Ricky Rubio may be off to another cold-shooting start, but he does the little things to make the Jazz better. After a career year in which his previous best from three-point range rose by nearly four percent (31%-35%), Rubio made himself invaluable to the Jazz. Rubio has found his own personal version of basketball nirvana. Whether whipping the ball to the perimeter to the outstretched arms of Ingles, to a cutting Spida-dunk or lofting a perfectly placed ‘oop to Gobert, Rubio has found his perfect basketball situation.
Walking double-double Derrick Favors will challenge Julius Randle’s brute force in the paint, and Jae Crowder should do likewise to Nikola Mirotic on the perimeter. Pelicans’ fans probably needn’t worry about rookie sensation Grayson Allen, who should not get much run, but should expect a heavy dose of Royce O’Neal and Dante Exum.
But the main matchup to watch will be between defensive stopper Jrue Holiday and the man who seems to have rediscovered his touch at just the right time.
”The past few games, I’d been struggling because I’d been kind of pressing the issue,” Mitchell said. “I came into [Wednesday’s game] with the mindset of just finding the open guy. That was really my biggest thing. Last year in the playoffs, there were games where I got too deep or too whatever, just kind of not making the right plays. To me, just being able to make the right reads early just allowed me to settle down and relax a little bit.”
Mitchell exploded on Wednesday night against the Houston Rockets for 38 points on 14/25 shooting.
The Jazz will look to slow the pace and win the game in the halfcourt. They are 21st in pace, seventh in defensive rating, and excel at getting to the line. In addition, Gobert has often outplayed Anthony Davis in previous matchups so it will be interesting to see who emerges from the battle up front.
The Pelicans are 21-34 lifetime against the Big Easy name-snatching group, and have managed but one victory in their previous eight tries. On March 11th, 2018, the Jazz fought off the Pels with 30/10/7 from Rubio, 27 from Mitchell, and 20 from Gobert in a decisive 116-99 victory. Davis and Holiday were held to 43 points on 16/41 from the floor.
Time to make some new history! Geaux Pels!!!
What: New Orleans Pelicans vs Utah Jazz
Where: Smoothie King Center
When: Saturday, October 27, 2018, 6:00 p.m. Central
How: Fox Sports New Orleans, 99.5 FM WRNO