After sweeping a brutal three games in three nights on the schedule, the New Orleans Pelicans (43-30) will play the Houston Rockets (58-14), whom they ”owe”, in the words of superstar big man Anthony Davis. Tonight’s game will be the final meeting between the two teams during the regular season. Heretofore the Rockets have gotten the better of the Pels in 2018, holding a 2-1 lead after the first three meetings.
The Rockets, for their part, are on a seven-game win streak and coming off a close overtime win against the Detroit Pistons this past Thursday night. If the Pistons can hang with Houston on their home floor, its no stretch to think the Pelicans can perhaps take down the winningest team for a second time — but they’ll have to be locked in.
With the Thunder right in front of the Pelicans in the standings, and the Spurs nipping at their heels, tonight has the potential to be a statement game for New Orleans. If they can pull off the upset against the Rockets, it will put the rest of the association on notice that New Orleans is not going to fade down the stretch and will be a tough out in the playoffs. However, the Pelicans will have to execute and hope the referees don’t railroad them like they did in the last meeting between the teams, sparking a furious fine yielding rant from head coach Alvin Gentry.
In addition, the Pelicans are going to have to do it shorthanded. Rajon Rondo (sprained right wrist) has been ruled out and Nikola Mirotic (right hip flexor) is listed as questionable. The Rockets have James Harden (sprained left ankle) listed as probable but Chris Paul (left hamstring) and Luc Mbah Moute (sore knee) are questionable.
3 Keys To Victory
Do not foul
The Rockets have essentially flopped their way to the associations best record. Houston is second in the league in free throw attempts per game with 25.1 per contest. For evidence, you need to not look further than the Pelicans last matchup against the Rockets in the Smoothie King Center.
While the Pels did an admirable job of keeping Houston off the line, the Rockets drew several phantom calls late in the clutch moments of the game. They also had the refs conveniently miss several calls that should’ve gone in favor of New Orleans. Regardless, the Pelicans should look to duplicate their relative success in this area during the last matchup. Here’s to hoping Gentry’s recent rant pays off and the Pels get some of the calls that were so blatantly missed in the last game.
Protect the three-point line
The three-point line is truly where games are won and lost against the Rockets. Houston leads all teams with a headache inducing 42.1 attempts per game. The next closest team is Brooklyn with 35 attempts per game. In their last meeting, the Pelicans held the Rockets slightly under their average of 41 attempts, which yielded 15 makes for Houston.
If the New Orleans can hold the Rockets under 40 three-point attempts and keep them under their season average for long distances makes (36.5%), they will likely walk out of the Toyota Center with the W.
Get the rock to the tall guy
As they should every game, New Orleans will need to feed superstar Anthony Davis. Houston’s only answer for Davis is to foul and hope it doesn’t get called. In their last meeting, the Rockets aggressively blitzed Davis all night in an attempt to force the ball out of his hands. Alvin Gentry will need to scheme some clean looks for the Brow, possibly by getting the big man on the move or isolating him at the top of the key.
Davis will also have to make the right pass out of double and triple teams and it will be up to his teammates to make the Rockets pay for leaving shooters on the perimeter. Hope for big games out of role players like Darius Miller and Ian Clark. In addition, the Pelicans will need plenty of energy from Mr. Wankada Forever, aka Cheick Diallo, to provide his trademark spark and dominate the boards.
It won’t be easy but I’ve got a sneaky feeling the Pels will pull of this upset!
What: New Orleans Pelicans vs Everybody
Where: Toyota Center
When: March 24, 2018, 7:00 p.m. Central
How: FSNO, WRNO 99.5 FM