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NBA Preview: Can Jahlil Okafor post another stellar line in a start against Blake Griffin and the Pistons?

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The Pelicans are 2-0 when Jahlil Okafor starts, but Griffin and Drummond will put him to the test.

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Detroit Pistons Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

The New Orleans Pelicans aren’t ready to surrender the 2018/19 season just yet.

On MLK day, it was Jahlil Okafor breathing life back into the free-falling Pelicans with a spectacular 20 and 10 performance in just his second start of the season.

The Pelicans’ big four of Okafor, Holiday, Mirotic and Randle all eclipsed 20 points, and team earned the best defensive performance of the season en route to a 20-point shellacking.

The road trip victory couldn’t have come at a better time for the Pelicans, especially considering the loss to Anthony Davis and his sprained finger. But this victory was more than lagniappe. It was a desperate performance against another team on the cusp of a rebuild.

Now, the Pelicans meet another such opponent at a serendipitous moment in the Pistons. Though Detroit rests but two games from the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference, they’ve failed to put together a competitive streak as of late losing seven of their past 10, and 15 of their previous 22 games including the two most recent contests against the the Wizards and Kings.

But make no mistake, this Pistons’ team is desperate and will look to capitalize on the short-handed Pelicans without Anthony Davis. The challenge to Julius Randle, Nikola Mirotic and Jahlil Okafor will be an immense one, and staying out of foul trouble will be critical against the tandem of Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond.

Griffin is quietly enjoying the best statistical season of his career. At 26 points, eight rebounds and five assists per game on 36% from three-point range, Griffin is the launching pad to Pistons’ success and he’ll look to draw contact early on Randle and Mirotic. At 24 attempts per game, the Pistons are 13th in opportunities from the stripe.

NBA: Houston Rockets at Detroit Pistons Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

Next to Blake Griffin is the quite the load in Andre Drummond. At 16 points and 15 rebounds, Drummond remains productive in the paint, leading the NBA in rebounding for the third time. Though a putrid 52% free throw shooter, creating contact could further deplete the Pelicans’ shorthanded group of big men. Drummond has disappointed with a career-low in efficiency, but can still dominate down low, especially against a team lacking physicality when the ball is in the air.

The Reggie brothers, Jackson and Bullock, pace much of the rest of the scoring at 14 and 12 points per game respectively, though neither has been particularly efficient or consistent. Bullock can fill it up from three, however, at 38%.

Former eighth overall pick, Luke Kennard will be the dangerous sharp shooter with the first group of substitutions and could be the most likely candidate to assume the Jake Layman role. Glenn Robinson III and Bruce Brown will receive the bulk of the minutes at the three, though both have underwhelmed in their opening campaigns in Detroit.

The Pelicans will face many of the same challenges in the Pistons that they saw in the season surrendering Memphis Grizzlies, but don’t expect Detroit to quit as the game goes along. At 21st in pace, 25th in scoring and 11th in defense, the Pistons will look to slow the game and force bully ball on the Pels, leading much of the offense through Griffin. Defensively, the Pelicans will have to fight a stout unit that holds opponents to just nine converted three-pointers per game (1st) on 32.7% shooting (1st). Transition points will also be difficult to come by. The Pistons rarely surrenders fast-break opportunities (7th).

The Pelicans will have to get it done against Drummond. Though the Pistons are led by big men, the strength of their defense comes on the perimeter. The Pistons allow teams to penetrate giving up 51 points per game in the paint, sixth-worst in the NBA, and a Pelican strong suit.

Keys to the Game

  • Avoid foul trouble
  • Win in the paint
  • Limit Pistons’ role players

Injuries:

Pelicans: Anthony Davis (out, finger), Pistons - Ish Smith (questionable, groin), Andre Drummond (questionable, concussion)

Let’s geaux, Pels!

New Orleans Detroit
Pace: 102.6 (6th) Pace: 98.3 (21st)
ORtg: 114.8 (4th) ORtg: 106.5 (25th)
DRtg: 112.8 (24th) DRtg: 109.3 (11th)
Projected Starters:
New Orleans Detroit
PG - Elfrid Payton PG - Reggie Jackson
SG - Jrue Holiday SG - Reggie Bullock
SF - E'Twaun Moore F - Bruce Brown Jr
F - Julius Randle PF - Blake Griffin
C - Jahlil Okafor C - Andre Drummond
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Where To Watch

What: New Orleans Pelicans (22-25) vs Detroit Pistons (20-26)

Where: Smoothie King Center, New Orleans, LA

When: Wednesday, January 23, 2018, 7:00 p.m. Central

How: FSNO, 99.5 FM WRNO