Tonight on TNT, the Pelicans travel to the Toyota Center to fight a resurrected Chris Paul and reigning-MVP James Harden, who just so happens to be enjoying one of the best scoring season in NBA history:
Stats: Michael Jordan in his best scoring season vs. James Harden this year.— HoopsHype (@hoopshype) January 28, 2019
Will now duck for cover. See you later. pic.twitter.com/If3DiPOSWx
Much of it without Chris Paul and Clint Capela, Houston has won three of four and 13 of the past 18 games. Like a Phoenix from the ashes, the Rockets have stormed back from a 1-5 season start to take a firm hold of the fifth seed in the Western Conference and trail just two games behind the third-seeded Thunder.
They’d done it all from the perimeter and isolation. The league’s best three-point shooting team and second-best three-point shooting defense practices one of the league’s slowest paces (27th) along with the league’s third-best offense (114.7 rating).
Should the Pelicans slow the runaway bearded freight train, they’ll have to do it in the paint. Without Capela to rim protect, the Rockets allow a league-worst 53 points in the paint per game and give up the tenth-most rebounds to opponents including 11 on the opponent’s offensive end (20th).
Tonight should be a prime opportunity for Jahlil Okafor to shine bright like a diamond.
Jahlil Okafor last 4 games— NBA Central (@TheNBACentral) January 27, 2019
24 points(10-12 FG), 15 rebounds
18 points(9-12 FG), 8 rebounds
17 points(8-13 FG), 10 rebounds
20 points(9-11 FG), 10 rebounds
Let’s hope he keeps this up pic.twitter.com/K4ZA2A2snC
Newly acquired Kenneth Faried will be active early and often and will try to body up the much larger Okafor. He’ll be spelled by his long haired compatriot, Nene Hilario.
Chris Paul was quiet in his return from a hamstring injury against the Orlando Magic on Sunday night. The Magic led by as many as 16 points before falling in the final minutes to James Harden and his 40 points, 103-98. Paul will look to get comfortable against Elfrid Payton and improve upon his 12 point, six assist, five rebound performance in just 25 minutes.
In the backcourt, Jrue and Payton will need to police Austin Rivers and Eric Gordon from getting going and providing Harden with any aid. A decisive Frankie Jackson victory over these two would give Pelicans’ fans some much-needed joy in what has become a disastrous season.
But these are long odds, as tank mode is in full effect. The Pelicans will sit/rest Anthony Davis, E’Twaun Moore, Nikola Mirotic and Julius Randle.
Another storyline to monitor, how many minutes will we even see from the Pelicans’ tandem of Elfrid Payton and Jrue Holiday?
With minimal reasons to play and win in what is fast becoming a rebuilding year, the Pelicans’ brass may seek to rest Holiday for much of the final stretch of the season. While Payton is seeking a payday this summer in his unrestricted free agency, risking his health with a heavy workload makes little sense.
There’s a very real possibility the Pelicans’ begin doling out heavy minutes to Ian Clark, Tim Frazier, Kenrich Williams, Cheick Diallo, Solomon Hill, Wesley Johnson and Frank Jackson. And let’s hope we see Trevon Bluiett sooner, rather than later, too.
Let’s geaux, Pels?
Where To Watch
What: New Orleans Pelicans (22-28) at Houston Rockets (29-20)
Where: Toyota Center, Houston, TX
When: Tuesday, January 29, 2018, 7:00 p.m. Central
How: TNT, 99.5 FM WRNO