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NBA Preview: New Orleans Pelicans to face stiffest of challenges against surging Utah Jazz

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Don’t let their overall record fool you, the Jazz are currently playing like one of the best teams in the league.

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Utah Jazz Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

The post-ruptured DeMarcus Cousins’ Achilles era is not off to a great start for the New Orleans Pelicans.

Your favorite team has dropped three of four since losing Cousins for the season, and it would’ve been four straight had Anthony Davis not turned into a demigod against the Thunder. When we last saw New Orleans, they had problems staying with the Minnesota Timberwolves in a 118-107 loss in Minneapolis. Now, the Pelicans must pick themselves up off the floor and get back to their winning ways against the Utah Jazz, but it won’t be easy.

The Jazz are slowly but surely creeping their way back into the Western Conference playoff picture. They’ve won five in a row, and three of which came against the Raptors, a 30-point thrashing of the Warriors, and the Spurs. Yeah, it’s not all scrubs Utah’s been beating up on, it’s some of the league’s heaviest hitters and the Jazz haven’t blinked once.

Like one would expect, the Jazz get the job done on the defensive end. Ranking bottom-five in points scored a game — more on this in a moment — Utah’s more than compensating with the fourth-best figure in terms of points allowed a contest and it starts with the presence of The Stifle Tower.

The return of Rudy Gobert from a sprained knee has certainly aided Utah in picking themselves up off the mat. Gobert returned to the lineup on January 19, and the Jazz proceeded to win six of their last eight games on the schedule. Although many feel they will remain sellers before the trade deadline, Utah has done a good job of not paying attention to the rumor mill. Maybe their front office will have a last minute change of heart?

Biggest Key: Staying with or slowing down the Jazz offense

Since Gobert’s return, Utah’s offense has been on fire and carried the load, averaging 112.9 points per game. That ranks second in the league during this time frame to only the Golden State Warriors. The Jazz are on fire from deep (42.2%) — Joe Ingles has been unconscious, six players are averaging double figures in scoring — with Donovan Mitchell leading the charge at 22.0 PPG, and they're successfully pushing the pace.

Huh?

That’s right, a Quinn Snyder coached team is looking to get out in transition and run. Over the last eight games, the Jazz have operated at the leagues 8th fastest pace. This is a far cry over what they did previously, clocking in at the 3rd slowest pace. A couple of things are responsible for this revival: the group of core players are healthy and Ricky Rubio is in the midst of a resurgence.

Don’t make the mistake and look at the overall 24-28 record. Rather, concentrate on what’s occurred since Gobert returned and that’s the fact Utah is tearing opponents apart — home or away.

New Orleans is going to need to summon an excellent performance. In addition to Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday, the Pelicans are going to need solid contributions from Nikola Mirotic, E’Twaun Moore and rest of the cast to pull off a victory on Monday evening.

Geaux Pels!

What: New Orleans Pelicans vs Utah Jazz

Where: Smoothie King Center

When: February 5, 2018, 7:00 p.m. Central

How: FSNO, WRNO 99.5 FM