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NBA Preview: New Orleans Pelicans to face supreme litmus test versus hot-shooting Golden State Warriors in primetime

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The Warriors will be on the second night of a back-to-back after lighting up the Nuggets in Denver. Will Steph’s group suffer a bit of a let-down?

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

Litmus test time.

The New Orleans Pelicans have new life after winning their first road contest against a Western Conference foe since the opening night of the regular season, but it was their fourth victory in the last five games!

The Pelicans needed all of Anthony Davis’ 46 and Julius Randle’s 27 points to down the Clippers 121-117 on Monday night. The Clippers erased a 20-point lead with a 15-2 run to end the third quarter so the Pelicans had to endure more dreaded ‘clutch zone’ minutes — but AD was able to close the door at the free throw line.

No doubt about it, the Pelicans have been significantly better offensively with Elfrid Payton captaining the ship, though they continue to be deplorable all too often defensively. And defensively is where they will be put to the test against the number one ranked offense in the NBA.

The Golden State Warriors have the star power, the glamor, the offseason awards, and yes, the championships. And they’re nearing full strength. With Stephen Curry back in the lineup, the Warriors are 25-10, just 5-4 without him. They’ve won five consecutive contests and seven of their past eight.

But the Pelicans might catch a break.

The Warriors will face the Pelicans on the second night of a back-to-back, after destroying the team that was sitting atop of the West in the Denver Nuggets by a score of 142-111 on Tuesday evening. However, all of the key contributors for Golden State didn’t play a full accompaniment of minutes. Maybe the hope should be that the Warriors suffer some small emotional let down after proving to Denver they’re the best in the West?

Regardless of where the help comes from, the Pelicans will gladly accept any advantage doled out before Wednesday’s matchup.

NBA: Golden State Warriors at Dallas Mavericks Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Kevin Durant (28.2 ppg) and Steph (29.4 ppg) could conceivably become the first NBA teammates to average 30 or more in 40 years and continue to evolve into one of the most explosive tandems in NBA history. Curry recently laid waste to the Dallas Mavericks with 48 points on 11 made three-pointers, and followed it with 31 points on just 16 shots against the Nuggets.

Sharp-shooting Klay Thompson (21.7 ppg) is suffering a down season by his standards, shooting just 45% from the floor and 36% from three-point range, but he’s been better of late. Over the past eight games, Thompson has been red-hot from the field, averaging 25 points on 50% and 44%.

Draymond Green leads the Warriors in spirit, voice and plus/minus at +7.7. Individually, his scoring ability has fallen off a cliff, averaging but seven points on 41% and 23%. But defensively is where he leads this squad. The Warriors hold a hilarious Defensive Rating with Green off the floor of 118, but a much more palatable 108.5 with Green piloting the squad.

To defeat the Warriors, the Pelicans will have to master the West’s best squad by beating them at their own game. While the Pelicans continue their frenetic pace (3rd) the Warriors have slowed this season (10th). The Pelicans also trail the league’s best offense by two positions, but have been a burning inferno with Payton back.

The Warriors give up 111 points per game (20th) and should fall right into the Pelicans’ hands in that regard. Slow footed in transition (26th), the Warriors do manage to challenge shots and force difficult shots (7th in opponent shooting efficiency). They will and have always given opposing teams multiple opportunities coughing up the basketball 13.4 times per game (25th).

The Pelicans can’t hope to slow down the Warriors offensively. The Pelicans haven’t shown that penchant all season, and minimizing the effects of three supernova perimeter players is a laughable notion.

But outscoring them... That’s something the Pelicans might be able to do.

It’ll take Julius Randle abusing Kevan Looney, Nikola Mirotic and E’Twaun Moore converting their opportunities, and meaningful minutes from Frank Jackson, Darius Miller and Jahlil Okafor against the Warriors’ susceptible second unit. It’ll also take much love from the officials who famously awarded the Warriors 87 trips to the stripe to just 22 for the Pelicans in the first three games of round two last summer.

But above all, it’ll take yet another scoring explosion from Anthony Davis and dogged defense of Jrue Holiday on the combination of Kevin Durant and Steph Curry. Moore should once again draw Klay Thompson, and Moore has fared well in previous matchups. But how will Payton fare against Curry?

This game is more than just the third of five in their Western Coast road trip. It’s a measuring stick, and a momentum builder.

Can they pull off the feel-good win?

New Orleans Golden State
Pace: 102.0 (6th) Pace: 100.0 (10th)
ORtg: 114.7 (3rd) ORtg: 116.9 (1st)
DRtg: 112.5 (24th) DRtg: 110.6 (16th)
Projected Starters:
New Orleans Golden State
PG - Elfrid Payton PG - Steph Curry
SG - Jrue Holiday SG - Klay Thompson
SF - E'Twaun Moore F - Kevin Durant
F - Julius Randle PF - Draymond Green
C - Anthony Davis C - Kevan Looney
-

Note: The New Orleans Pelicans should just miss out on the first appearance of enigmatic figure and former Pelican, DeMarcus Cousins.

Seeing Cousins on the court would prove a little awkward for the Pelicans, who let the All-Star depart rather unceremoniously after mortgaging so much to acquire him. The Warriors are counting on him to bring the intensity they’ve lacked and set the course straight to the Finals. What Boogie will be able to contribute this season is anyone’s guess, but the Smoothie King Center should get their first glimpse of him back in action this April.

Where To Watch

What: New Orleans Pelicans (21-23) at Golden State Warriors (30-14)

Where: Oracle, Oakland, CA

When: Wednesday January 16, 2018, 9:30 p.m. Central

How: ESPN, FSNO, NSBA, 99.5 FM WRNO

Let’s geaux, Pels!