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NBA Preview: Jrue Holiday, with assistance from Pelicans defensive metamorphosis, look to stifle James Harden and Rockets

Houston has taken the first two games of the season series, but New Orleans could be poised to grab the third.

Houston Rockets v New Orleans Pelicans Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images

The New Orleans Pelicans are owners of the second longest current win streak in the NBA.

Let that sink in for just a moment — and please set aside the fact that we’re talking about a mere three victories in a row.

For nearly four long weeks, the Pelicans failed to notch a single win. They suffered through a 13-game losing streak and sat a game out from tying the Warriors for the worst record in a league. The defense was commonly abysmal. The team was either starting contests from behind, throwing victories away late, or both. Simply put, New Orleans was unable to string together 48 minutes of competitive basketball and fans were right to call for change, somewhere, anywhere.

Make a trade for some help!

Fire the head coach!!

Hell, blow it all up!!!

Portland Trail Blazers v New Orleans Pelicans Photo by Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE via Getty Images

Then, as if a prayer was answered, the Pelicans turned the page. A victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves got them back into the win column. And now just days later, they have won four of their last five games. New Orleans looks like a team to be reckoned with — miles from the pin cushion Alvin Gentry so once aptly described during the disappointing stretch of loss after loss.

The biggest reason for the complete turnaround, the Pelicans have vastly improved on the defensive end. With Derrick Favors stabilizing the interior, New Orleans is finally able to stop opponents. They’re no longer bleeding points all over the court and have held the opposition to a league-best 99.4 points since December 18th, which culminated in a splendid performance last night where the Pelicans held the Indiana Pacers to 66 points over the final three quarters.

Of course, each day brings a new challenge and the Houston Rockets will certainly pose a particularly stiff test for New Orleans next. At 38.3 points per game, James Harden is the league’s most fearsome scorer and he’s the biggest reason why Houston currently sits third in the Western Conference. Harden has already led the Rockets to several wins over the Pelicans this season, but the outcome could potentially be different this time round.

Both Russell Westbrook (rest) and Clint Capela (heel) are slated to miss the contest against the Pelicans, putting additional pressure on Harden. Although Eric Gordon is expected to return, New Orleans defense should still be able to key more on Harden than usual because he won’t have his favorite outlet sitting near the rim nor his dynamic backcourt partner who can swing the momentum in the matter of minutes.

Houston are winners of five of their last six, but they dropped their game on Christmas Day to the Golden State Warriors and will be playing on the second night of a back-to-back in New Orleans. The Pelicans will also be on a B2B, but unlike Harden who saw 39 minutes against the Brooklyn Nets, Jrue Holiday is coming off the Pacers win having exerted himself for only 29 minutes — without registering a single second of action in the fourth quarter.

We know it’s always a battle between two of the league’s biggest competitors in James Harden and Jrue Holiday, but New Orleans starting shooting guard could have the upper hand in this matchup because his gas tank is fuller.

Geaux Pels!

Where To Watch/Listen

What: New Orleans Pelicans (10-23) vs Houston Rockets (22-10)

Where: Smoothie King Center, New Orleans, LA

When: Sunday, December 29, 2019 7:00 PM CST