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NBA Preview: New Orleans Pelicans must limit James Harden in hopes of posting another win against Houston Rockets

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The Pelicans ended their five-game slide, but can they stop a team playing their best basketball of the season?

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Houston Rockets Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports

Finally!

The New Orleans Pelicans put an end to their five-game slide and stopped the outcry for massive changes within the organization for at least one night by defeating the brilliance of Luka Doncic and his Dallas Mavericks, 114-112.

But if you thought the Pelicans could breathe easy and soak in this win...well, you haven’t been paying attention this season.

Anthony Davis played 43 minutes in his spectacular 48-point performance, and he’ll likely need to post a similar effort to stop the surging Rockets, who are a far cry from the team you may remember in the Pelicans 131-112 opening night victory.

After beginning the season a dreadful 11-14, they’ve rattled off eight victories in their previous nine tries against the likes of the Jazz, Celtics, Spurs, Thunder, Grizzlies, Wizards, Blazers and Lakers.

James Harden is doing his best Wyatt Earp impersonation, laying waste to all gun-slingers who have come across his path en route to some historic numbers.

Harden has scored 30 points or more in eight straight games, and 35 points or more in six!

“Of course, I should be in that conversation,” Harden, the reigning MVP, said. “I received a lot of hate, but it won’t stop me from going out there and killing it every single night and being the dog that I am. You can name a few other people that can be in that conversation, but realistically, it’s coming back.” - via HoustonRockets.com

The Rockets are as uncharacteristic a Mike D’Antoni team as one could be, with the league’s third-slowest pace (95.8). However, their third-highest offensive rating, league-best three-point efficiency (43%) and sixth-best efficiency (53.6%) makes them one of the most frightening half-court offenses in the NBA.

Harden’s 33/8/5 lead the Rockets, but his help comes in the form of Clint Capela (17/13), Eric Gordon (16 points per game on 37%/30%), and P.J. Tucker, who has evolved to become a consistent three-point threat (41%).

Austin Rivers has been a welcome addition, especially in the continued absence of Chris Paul, and the Rockets may see James Ennis return on Saturday night, who has been absent since December 11th with a hamstring injury.

Stopping the Rockets is no great secret. Force tough shots, rebound the basketball and don’t foul. That’s all there is to it.

In addition to being efficient offensively, the Rockets are the league’s-worst rebounding team. The Pelicans will need those extra opportunities to beat a team flying high right now.

The New Orleans Pelicans have defeated the Houston Rockets only nine times in their last 28 tries, including the opening night 131-112 victory that seems a lifetime ago, and the infamous 115-113 victory on January 26th that completed shift the trajectory of the franchise for better or for worse.

Houston New Orleans
Pace: 95.8 (28th) Pace: 102.8 (3rd)
ORtg: 114.0 (3rd) ORtg: 113.2 (6th)
DRtg: 112.7 (25th) DRtg: 112.4 (23rd)
Projected Starters:
Houston New Orleans
PG - James Harden PG - Tim Frazier
SG - Eric Gordon SG - Jrue Holiday
SF - Danuel House F - Darius Miller
F - PJ Tucker PF - Julius Randle
C - Clint Capela C - Anthony Davis

Injuries: Pelicans: Elfrid Payton (out, finger), Nikola Mirotic (doubtful, ankle), Rockets: Chris Paul (out, hamstring), James Ennis (questionable, hamstring)

For more on the Rockets, visit our friends at The Dream Shake.

Where To Watch

What: Houston Rockets (19-15) at New Orleans Pelicans (16-20)

Where: Smoothie King Center, New Orleans

When: Saturday, December 29, 2018, 6:00 p.m. Central

How: FSNO, NBATV, 99.5 FM WRNO

Let’s geaux, Pels!