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NBA Preview: It’s now or never for New Orleans Pelicans in Cleveland against league-worst Cavaliers

Things are about as bad as they can get. Can Nola notch the much-needed decisive victory?

NBA: Cleveland Cavaliers at Atlanta Hawks Adam Hagy-USA TODAY Sports

The Pelicans waffled and waned defensively against the Brooklyn Nets, giving up 73 first-half points to the league’s 16th-best offense.

As a result?

The “Trade Anthony Davis” cry of the national media mob has escalated to full-on bomb threats of the higher-ups sitting on Airline Drive.

Tom Haberstroh pulls no punches, with levied attacks against general manager Dell Demps, the Oschner medical staff, as well as Mickey Loomis and the shared organization between the Saints and the Pelicans.

“Let the Saints be the Saints,” Anthony Davis’ trainer Marcell Scott told NBC Sports’ Tom Haberstroh. “They get all the recognition [in New Orleans] anyways. As a city, we need basketball guys with basketball guys and football guys with football guys. That’s how you get better as an organization moving forward.”

His final sentence was particularly damning:

“It’s becoming harder and harder to blame Davis if he decides to try his luck somewhere else.”

It’s hard to argue with too much of the terrific reporting done by Haberstroh in this piece. The Pelicans have underwhelmed, and seem destined to fully waste the prime years of yet another franchise cornerstone in Davis.

But the Pelicans are not dead yet.

At 17-22, the Pelicans have little margin for error, and righting the ship luckily comes against the league’s very worst NBA squad (on the second night of a back-to-back no less).

At 8-31, the Cavaliers have sole ownership of the league’s most depressing mark, and of the league’s worst average scoring margin (-9.4).

Since firing Ty Lue, the Cavaliers have fully embraced the ‘Zion Williamson sweepstakes,’ relegating J.R. Smith with 22 consecutive DNPs, and by trading veterans George Hill (MIL) and Kyle Korver (UTH).

Instead, the Cavaliers are playing their youngsters led by eighth overall pick from the 2018 Draft, Collin Sexton. Sexton leads the 28th scoring offense by shooting just over 40%, while fellow starters Alec Burks and Cedi Osman both shoot below it.

While Jordan Clarkson and Rodney Hood carry a substantially better 45% from the field (38% and 33% from three), the two carry an absolutely dreadful plus/minus of -4.5 and -8.

It starts with their defense, where the Cavaliers rank dead last. If the Pelicans are looking for a bounce back performance on that end of the floor, they have found their best hope for a lock down effort. The Cavs don’t shoot it well (29th), don’t score in the paint (28th), don’t rebound (26th), don’t move the ball (28th), don’t score in transition (23rd), and don’t create extra opportunities for themselves (30th in TOV created).

Tristan Thompson returns to the lineup after ten missed games, and he could provide the Cavaliers with the burst of energy. The Pelicans are dreadful at defending the boards on the defensive end (24th), even with two towers on the floor at over 30 minutes per game (AD, Randle).

Cleveland’s lone bright spot is ball protection, where they are ranked in the top five. The Pelicans won’t be able to create additional opportunities for themselves. They will simply have to beat a team straight up that has lost eight straight games, and ten of eleven.

But winning will not be enough. A decisive, definitive victory is required to quell the ever-growing angry mob.


Cleveland added Patrick McCaw on a two-year deal. He scored two points in his first performance against the Heat.

On Tuesday, the aforementioned Heat used a 2-3 zone that led to a 25 point victory, and held them to just 26 points in the paint.

On Friday, eight players scored in double-digits for the Jazz, as they defeated the Cavs in Cleveland 117-91, all while holding them to 38 points in the paint, and 39% shooting.

Cleveland New Orleans
Pace: 95.5 (29th) Pace: 102.2 (6th)
ORtg: 106.9 (23rd) ORtg: 113.8 (3rd)
DRtg: 116.8 (30th) DRtg: 113.0 (26th)
Projected Starters:
Cleveland New Orleans
PG - Collin Sexton PG - Elfrid Payton
SG - Alec Burks SG - Jrue Holiday
SF - Rodney Hood F - E'Twaun Moore
F - Cedi Osman PF - Julius Randle
C - Tristan Thompson C - Anthony Davis


Pelicans: Nikola Mirotic (out, ankle)

Cavaliers: Kevin Love (out, toe), David Nwaba (out), Ante Zizic (out)

Where To Watch

What: New Orleans Pelicans (17-22) at Cleveland Cavaliers (8-30)

Where: Quicken Loans Arena, Cleveland, Ohio

When: Friday, January 5, 2018, 7:00 p.m. Central

How: FSNO, 99.5 FM WRNO

Let’s geaux, Pels!