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NBA Playoff Preview: New Orleans Pelicans seek to steal Game 1 of Western Conference semifinals against Golden State Warriors

Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday are coming in hot, but will it be enough to pull off another surprise upset?

NBA: Golden State Warriors at New Orleans Pelicans Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

For just the second time in franchise history, the New Orleans Pelicans are heading to Round 2 of the NBA playoffs. After stunning the basketball world with a 4-0 sweep of the third seeded Portland Trail Blazers, the Golden State Warriors stand next on the schedule and Game 1 could feature Stephen Curry rejoining their core for the first time since March 23rd.

With or without the best volume shooter in the game, the Warriors will still put the Pelicans defensive effort, one that worked marvelously against Portland, to the test. Portland’s offense may have been generated from behind high screen and rolls and creation on the perimeter, but the Warriors’ offense is a whole different can of worms. In Chris Herring’s “The Beautiful Chaos of the Warriors’ Offense,” he describes just how the Warriors became the most efficient team in basketball.

The Warriors take the 25th most shots in the NBA, yet they are the most efficient while taking them. They create easy looks by using multiple picks and screens off ball, allowing for the primary ball handler to find them with the space they need for the open look. For more, read Chris Herring’s excellent piece from last year.

Golden State obviously uses pick and rolls, too, but the club relies on them less than any team in basketball.2 Instead, the Warriors prefer to confuse their opponents by setting screens away from the ball, a strategy the Dubs used 400 times more3 in the regular season than the next-closest team.

The Warriors utilize this approach to take advantage of their historic three point shooting. With weapons like Klay Thompson, Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant, even a contested three point shot is a dangerous one. All three have unlimited range, KD has the size to shoot over any defender, Klay has the quickest and purest release of anyone in the game, and Steph has the range and confidence to knock down anything.

Going against a team that has rolled its way through a 267-63 record over four years will certainly present its challenges for the Pelicans, but this Warriors ‘team is far from invulnerable. Golden State barely crossed the finish line in the regular season after losing their former two-time MVP on March 23rd to a grade two MCL sprain. Winners of just seven of their last 17 games, the Warriors needed victories against the Suns (3 times), the Kings, the Hawks, the Lakers, and the Thunder just to stay afloat.

The four year run of excellence has taken its toll on this super team, as they managed just 58 victories — after averaging 68.5 the three previous seasons. On top of the Curry’s knee, several other Warriors’ have missed time due to injury.

  • Stephen Curry: 31 missed games
  • Andre Iguodala: 18 missed games
  • Kevin Durant: 14 missed games
  • Draymond Green: 12 missed games
  • Klay Thompson: 11 missed games
  • Shaun Livingston: 11 missed games

Green played a career-low 70 games after missing time due to injuries to his knee, his shoulder, his elbow, his pelvis, his midsection and suffering from flu-like symptoms. His play has been reflected in these various maladies, as he has shot just 45% from the field and 30% from three-point land — the worst efficiency seen since his rookie season.

Iguodala, too, had trouble finding the range, canning only 28% of his three-point attempts — his worst mark in his 14-year career. Thigh, knee and ankle problems have likely been bothersome all season.

So, how will the Pelicans put an end to a team that before two weeks ago had managed to put them away a remarkable 24 in their previous 25 meetings (including that 2015 playoff sweep)?

Simple, or so I like to think: Win the turnover battle.

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Golden State Warriors Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The Pelicans and Warriors are similar in many respects. While we’ve discussed their different offensive philosophies, both teams like to run. The Pelicans led the league in pace, while the Warriors finished fifth. Golden State leads the league in transition scoring at 19 points per game, and they will taunt New Orleans into attacking the offensive glass — though they are fifth in defensive rebounding. Should the Pelicans take the bait, the Warriors will capitalize with deadly accuracy from behind the line.

The Pelicans can try a variety of things to slow the Warriors down including offering mismatches to force isolation basketball, but ultimately the Pelicans will need to outscore the Warriors. To do that, they will need to take advantage of the Dubs in the paint, where they are 21st, they will need to attack in transition where they are 25th, and most importantly, they need to limit their own mistakes to prevent Golden State from doing what they do best.

The Warriors are 26th in turning the ball over, due to their frenzied passing rate, and that is precisely where the Pelicans need to capitalize. The Pels won the turnover battle 8-17 on April 7th that included forcing three key turnovers down the stretch.

An offense generated around the pick and roll and a probing backcourt of Rajon Rondo, Jrue Holiday and E’Twaun Moore, the Pelicans may show us some wrinkles on that end we haven’t seen as of yet. They definitely need to put Steph through the wringer to see just how much stamina he has after missing a month of competitive basketball.

Turnovers aside, one thing is certain: The Pelicans will need every bit the fight and effort they exhibited versus Portland to try and score an impressive upset victory over the most talented team in the NBA. AD (33/12/3), Jrue (28/7/4), Niko (18/10/2.3 blocks, 2 steals), and Rajon Rondo (11/13/8) were spectacular against Portland, and they will need to post similar performances again.

E’Twaun Moore scored on 7/7 shots two weeks ago, and Ian Clark will likely look to get active early against his former team. Darius Miller enjoyed 25 minutes against the Dubs, including some matchups with Kevin Durant. The Pelicans may not need to rely on lock down defense if they can show pinpoint accuracy on the offense end. Let’s hope the role players will be up for the challenge.

Oh, and one last thing: Look out for Shaun Livingston. The 6’7 point guard is nothing but length, is an expert in the post, and as old school as they come.

The decisions of Steve Kerr and Alvin Gentry will be interesting to watch as well as these two teams know each other very well. Can Alvin make good on his half-hearted desire of outcoaching Kerr?

Anyways, do you think the Pelicans can shock the world and steal Game 1? Comment below how YOU think they can pull it off.

Let’s geaux Pels!

What: New Orleans Pelicans at Golden State Warriors

Where: Oracle Arena

When: April 28, 2018, 9:30 pm Central

How: TNT, 99.5 FM WRNO