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NBA Preview: Pelicans must decipher woes against Harden, Westbrook and three-point shooting happy Rockets in Houston

New Orleans is 0-2, playing on the second night of a back-to-back and Jrue Holiday is off to the slowest of starts. No sweat?!

NBA: Milwaukee Bucks at Houston Rockets Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

Coming off the heels of a disappointing 123-116 loss to the Mavericks, the New Orleans Pelicans (0-2) do not have the privilege of trying to right some wrongs on the practice court as a matchup with the Houston Rockets (0-1) looms Saturday evening.

While much of the attention in the NBA has shifted west to the Los Angeles Lakers, Los Angeles Clippers and Utah Jazz, the team that’s won 53 or more games in five of the past six seasons reinvented themselves by adding yet another league MVP in Russell Westbrook.

Losing Luc Mbah a Moute and Trevor Ariza changed what the Rockets could do defensively and saw them eliminated by the Golden State Warriors without the benefit of Kevin Durant.

However, with the addition of Westbrook, Five Thirty-Eight projects the Rockets to finish first in wins in the NBA.

The Rockets re-signed Eric Gordon, Austin Rivers, and Nene Hilario while adding Ben McLemore, Thabo Sefolosha and Tyson Chandler to round out their depth.

The Rockets do face a certain amount of adversity following the overhaul to Mike D’Antoni’s coaching staff. It was New Orleans’ recent hire Jeff Bdzelik that made the Rockets’ defense so formidable in 2017-18 and saved their season in 2018-19.

Now, D’Antoni is in the final year of his contract with a new look bench.

Then, general manager Daryl Morey has shared his bit of differences with Rockets’ owner and “Shut Up and Listen” author, Tillman Fertitta who publicly spurned Morey’s remarks following his “Free Hong Kong,” tweet.

Those offcourt distractions shouldn’t faze the two MVPs, who are bound to rediscover the chemistry that led them to the NBA Finals in 2012. Add in rim-running big man Clint Capela and defensive stalwart PJ Tucker and this unit still has one of the best core-fours in the NBA. And for one half against the Milwaukee Bucks on Thursday night, they sure looked like it.

The Rockets led by 16 at the half and looked to put away a decisive victory as they held the Bucks to just 16 points. Houston displayed a new offensive style different than the one that finished 26th in pace in 2018-19. Tyson Chandler was impressive in his new role. But then came the second half where the Rockets lost their up-tempo tenacity and scored just 45 points while allowing 67 (39 in the fourth).

Much of the blame can be attributed to the Rockets not making buckets they usually make. Take a look at the shot charts of Harden, Gordon and Rivers:

The Rockets shot 36 percent as a team against last year’s number one rated defense. Credit Mike Budenholzer for getting his team in a completely different mindset in the second half and to Giannis for dominating.

To win, the Pelicans must keep up the space and keep the Rockets’ backcourt scorers in front of them. The Rockets shot 48 three-pointers on Thursday, up from last season’s league-leading number of 45. In order to win, the Pelicans have to make them earn those shots. We know the Pelicans are going to score plenty of points so don’t make things easy for Harden, Westbrook and company.

Last season, the Pelicans took two of the three meaningful games against the Rockets including their opener in Houston, 131-112. Let’s see if they can repeat history!

Geaux Pels!

Where To Watch/Listen

What: New Orleans Pelicans (0-2) at Houston Rockets (0-1)

Where: Toyota Center, Houston, TX

When: Saturday, October 26, 2019. 7:00 PM CDT