We all remember it. One of the richest nights in New Orleans Basketball history marred by tragedy. DeMarcus Cousins played one of the most complete games of his short Pelicans’ career with a triple double on just 12 shots.
But that was then and this is now, yet the Pelicans are just as desperate for a win as they were then, on Thursday against the Spurs, and for just about every game remaining on the regular season schedule.
They have every right to be concerned on the eve of this Saturday night matchup. Just seven weeks after their last clash resulted in a 115-113 blemish on the then CP3 Harden Capela 33-0 record, the Rockets are again on fire. They’ve won 20 of 21, with the lone loss coming at the hands of the surging Raptors 105-108. James Harden is set to win the MVP, Chris Paul is set to advance to secure home court throughout the playoffs at his side, and Houston may very well have the best team in franchise history.
Crazy, you think? The 1993-94 Houston championship squad won 58 games, before then dismantling a not so impressive New York Knickerbocker squad (shots fired!). The following season they won another trophy but won a rather unimpressive 47 games and capitalized on a young Orlando Magic team in the Finals.
Moses Malone? Never won more than 51. McGrady and Yao Ming? 55.
This Rockets team may not bring home the title as some worthy opponent(s) will probably stand in their path, but in any other generation they’d be every bit as worth of the title.
Seems an impossible hill to climb doesn’t it? The Pelicans have lost three of four, face the best team in the league, and arguably it’s healthiest too. Moreover, before the January 26 win, New Orleans had lost six of the previous seven matchups.
They did an admirable job on the Rockets’ perimeter players, holding James Harden to 5/16 from the floor, and the Rockets as a whole to 46% and 33% from the floor.
Five Keys to the Matchup
Limit the three-headed backcourt
The Pelicans must limit at least two of the three-headed monster that is Harden, CP3 and Eric Gordon, who combined for 88 points in their last contest with the Pelicans. They can try this by employing a full court press and disrupting the Rockets’ rhythm. The Clippers went this route and it translated into a 12-point lead before the Rockets closed them out in the final minute.
Anthony Davis has the power to once again outplay the young and currently regressing Clint Capela. Capela’s sensational season numbers have dipped in March, and Anthony held him to but eight points last January.
Supporting Cast Help
In the previous matchup Darius Miller scored 20, but he’s only scored more than 11 once in the past month. Other than E’Twaun Moore with 13, the Pelicans did not get much help outside of AD/Boogie and Jrue Holiday. Rajon Rondo scored 0 points in 17 minutes.
If the Pelicans are to earn a positive result in their horrifying five game in six night homestand, they will need better production from Nikola Mirotic and Miller, contributions from Ian Clark, Emeka Okafor, and Cheick Diallo, and the best out of Rondo.
The Pelicans need to win this role player battle and they can. Joe Johnson shoots less than 40% from the field and will earn big minutes in this one. PJ Tucker and Trevor Ariza are both facing similar shooting numbers, 39% and 42% respectively. Ryan Anderson will be available after returning from a hip injury, but he was ineffective against the Pelicans in his last matchup with a -20 in 17 minutes.
Both the Pelicans and Rockets could pull the plug early in this one as each team will be on the first night of a back-to-back. Frankly, Houston doesn’t need to beat New Orleans. They need to stay healthy. They’ve already wrapped up the Southwest division and tiebreakers over anyone other than the Warriors is irrelevant.
Likewise, the Pels could pull the plug early in order to save their stars. After all, that brutal stretch they face next week will be no easy task.
Limit Foul Shooting
Harden, Paul and Gordon are masters at drawing incidental contact and turning it into free points. They sink 21 free throws per game, good for 1st in the league. Don’t give them free points.
For more on this, hear from expert Ben Dubose of Locked on Rockets and Rockets’ flagship station, Sports Talk 790am.
What: New Orleans Pelicans vs Houston Rockets
Where: Smoothie King Center
When: March 17, 2018, 6:00 PM Central
How: FSNO, WRNO 99.5 FM