The trade deadline may be all anyone wants to talk about outside of New Orleans, but within the city, Pelicans’ fans have to be giddy with excitement to see a team overcome certain odds, rise above expectation and distractions night after night, and nearly do the unthinkable without the resources necessary to be taken seriously by their opponents.
Welcome to what has become the post-Anthony Davis era of the New Orleans Pelicans.
A team loaded with underperforming All-Star level talent has been replaced with a bunch of try-hards who continually come up short, but fight ‘til the end, earning praise from a fan base that just wants to see competent basketball without excuses or let downs.
After falling behind by 22 points, the Pelicans mounted a stellar comeback, and nearly tied things up with 4.4 seconds remaining. But an ill-fated possession resulted in a Tim Frazier three-point shot that somehow almost found the center of the cylinder.
Kenrich Williams was again great, managing 12 points and seven rebounds on just seven shots.
Ian Clark came out of nowhere to give the Pelicans 15 points on nine shots, finding his rhythm for the first time in months, improbably sinking three after three.
Faint memories of Wakanda Forever even surfaced as Cheick Diallo went for 13 points, eight rebounds and three assists.
But the hero of the night was Frank Jackson, who led the Pelicans with a career-high 25 points in an eye-popping 42 minute splurge.
And now the Pelicans seek to overcome certain odds yet again, against the 33-19 Indiana Pacers.
The Pacers have their own set of struggles, losing four of their previous five contests in the absence of Victor Oladipo. In fact, their most recent victory over the Miami Heat took a breakout performance from Bojan Bogdanovic and an even nastier defensive performance by the NBA’s second-best unit (105.1 DRtg).
Bogdanovic led the @Pacers with 31 points and matched his best scoring effort ever with the team: "I'm just trying to do whatever it takes to get a W... We deserve this win a couple tough games we've had." pic.twitter.com/kHrpzG7Vce— FOX Sports Indiana (@FSIndiana) February 3, 2019
As good as the defense has been, the Pacers offense has been just as inept recently, failing to score more than 103 points in the past five games.
It takes a village for Indiana to get points without Oladipo, with double-digit scoring averages coming from seven different players (Oladipo, Evans, Bogdanovic, Turner, Sabonis, Collison, and Young).
The Pacers play against their name, with the league’s fifth slowest unit, and 19th ranked offense. They struggle on the boards (22nd), but defend the paint with aplomb (fourth), and they have the third-happiest set of hands in the NBA (nine steals per game).
They execute from the perimeter as the league’s third-most efficient three-point shooting team, while allowing the second fewest field goals to their opponents and league-leading fewest free throws.
The Pelicans are going to struggle to score against this unit. It will be ugly and it will be a grind. The Pelicans have already been struggling, specifically their starting unit that routinely opens the first six minutes of first and third quarters with under ten points.
The onus will fall heavily on Jrue Holiday yet again, who will seek to minimize the quick-footed Darren Collison, resourceful Cory Joseph, and bulldog Tyreke Evans, all the while scoring near his critical 20-point average.
While continuing the uptick in minutes for Frank Jackson and Kenrich Williams remains a priority, inserting Kenrich into the starting lineup could become an option should Solomon Hill and Wesley Johnson continue to underwhelm. With his impressive display of hustle and distance shooting, that opportunity may come sooner than later.
Jahlil Okafor will have the opportunity to bounce back from Saturday night’s loss to LaMarcus Aldridge and company. Okafor totaled just six points in his lowest scoring performance since being inserted in the starting lineup. He will battle big man Myles Turner, who just collected his 500th block, and is a killer in the high pick-and-roll.
Pelicans also face a tremendous disadvantage without a capable power forward to slow Thaddeus Young, who is dangerous from the floor and from deep (34%). Behind him, Domantas Sabonis will challenge Diallo and crew with the Pacers capable bench unit.
On a fun note, Jrue Holiday will face off with his baby brother, the Indiana Pacers’ first-round pick, Aaron Holiday for the first time in their professional careers. Trust that father Shawn, and wife Lauren will probably be in attendance to watch the brothers go head to head.
Let’s geaux, Jrue Krewe!
Where To Watch
What: New Orleans Pelicans (23-30) vs Indiana Pacers (33-19)
Where: Smoothie King Center, New Orleans, LA
When: Monday, February 4th, 2018, 7:00 p.m. Central
How: FSNO, 99.5 FM WRNO