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NBA Preview: Pelicans battle Warriors with New Orleans trending upwards, D’Angelo Russell already living in 2020

Both teams sit at the bottom in the West, but it feels like there might be a clear favorite.

NBA: Golden State Warriors at New Orleans Pelicans Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

The New Orleans Pelicans, fresh off their first victory in nearly a month after beating the Timberwolves Wednesday, could see their fortunes shift dramatically and find themselves on a two-game winning streak by the end of tonight because the Golden State Warriors sit next on the schedule.

Although the Pelicans have been horrendous on the road, winning just three of 14 games, the Warriors have been even worse at home, posting just two wins in 12 tries. Golden State, the creme of the NBA the past five seasons, took a swan dive off the highest cliff in California after falling to the Raptors in the last Finals.

Kevin Durant is in Brooklyn, but he wouldn’t have been of any help after shredding an Achilles last June. There was always a chance Klay Thompson would miss all of the 2019-20 season after tearing his left ACL in the same Finals. And after starting the season a bit slowly, Stephen Curry broke his hand before the calendar flipped to November.

Three unavailable stars later, the Warriors have squeezed out a mere five wins in their first 29 games — but one of their shining moments does include a victory over the Pelicans. Yep, New Orleans disappointment has been such a hard stinging slap to the face that the Pelicans were fortunate enough to catch one of Steph’s three complete games on the season thus far.

If it wasn’t for bad luck, New Orleans would have no luck at all?

Anyways, before you point out to me that 8-21 isn’t prettier than 7-22 — and I’d agree with you in a heartbeat, let’s move onto talking about tonight’s matchup because the Pelicans have the horses for a change.

For the first time this season, the Pelicans are as healthy as we’ve seen them and the team has recently displayed some defensive chops. They are one of three teams to post a defensive rating under 100 (San Antonio and Indiana being the others) in the last two games — hey, baby steps — and you feel like New Orleans may be able to build on that success.

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Minnesota Timberwolves Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Derrick Favors, who was counted on to anchor the team’s defense in preseason, has played in four straight contests and is slowly rounding back into form. That combined with the four-man group of Jrue Holiday, JJ Redick, Brandon Ingram and Kenrich Williams having spent 182 minutes on the court lends to naturally better slowing down opponents. There’s few things more helpful for team defenses than continuity and possessing a reliable anchor in the middle to reduce the number of breakdowns.

On offense, Alvin Gentry has enjoyed good offensive production out of B.I., Jrue and JJ, with Josh Hart giving nice support off the bench over the last five contests.

Jaxson Hayes deserves praise for proving to be a difference-maker much more often on both ends of the floor, too. That’s no small feat for 19-year-old rookie who entered the pro ranks with so little competitive experience.

As for several others, Nickeil Alexander-Walker may be on the verge of finding that elusive consistency, but we’re still waiting on Lonzo Ball to stumble upon a whole lot more confidence. He’s just been such a mixed bag of late.

As for Golden State, they’ve lost nine of their last ten games and it’s not hard to see why. Steve Kerr sent out a starting lineup of D’Angelo Russell, Glenn Robinson III, Damion Lee, Draymond Green and Willie Cauley-Stein in the Warriors last matchup against the Trail Blazers.

Among the Warriors two best players left standing, Green has seemingly proven the long thought theory that he’s infinitely more valuable on the floor when surrounded by legitimate offensive threats and Russell simply isn’t good enough to carry the burden alone.

While the won/loss records indicate that this matchup could be a good fair fight on paper, it feels like fool’s gold. Pelican performances are trending upwards and they’re as complete as they’ve been since the start of the season. Meanwhile, the Warriors starting point guard and leading scorer posted the following Tweet at some insane hour yesterday morning.

You know, Russell hasn’t enjoyed the easiest of transitions since his last appearance with the Nets. He’s consistently heard his name in the trade rumor mill and many still think he’s destined to be on the move to Minnesota.

So for those lagging behind the pack here, count me in the group that expects New Orleans to grab a win Friday night.

Geaux Pels!

Where To Watch/Listen

What: New Orleans Pelicans (7-22) at Golden State Warriors (5-24)

Where: Chase Center

When: Friday, December 20, 2019 9:30 PM CST

How: Fox Sports New Orleans, NSBA