The Pelicans are heading to Utah for their 36th road game of the season.
On virtually any day of this season, New Orleans fans reading that sentence would inevitably assume a loss was on the horizon, and for good reason. An 11-24 record away from the Smoothie King Center is the biggest non-unibrow blemish on this season, and will likely be the primary reason they miss the playoffs.
But today is no ordinary day!
Last night, on the second game of a back-to-back after defeating the Phoenix Suns the night before, Julius Randle and Jrue Holiday led the Pelicans a mile above sea level to take down the league’s best home team, the Denver Nuggets, 120-112.
Denver’s season is still intact, as they are still safely slotted into the Western Conference’s second seed, but they are now tied with the Toronto Raptors for the best home record in the league (27-6). The league-best Milwaukee Bucks are one of just two teams in the league to have defeated both of these teams on the road. The other? You guessed it.
The Utah Jazz haven’t been as good at home, which can probably be attributed more to a truly basement-tier arena name than poor play, especially in the second third of the regular season. After falling to the Houston Rockets on December 17th, their record was 14-17, a far cry from last season’s 48-34 mark that they seemed poised to match or surpass this year.
Since then, all they have done is play to the tune of the league’s fourth-best record (22-9), rise to the sixth seed in the conference and boost their overall record to ten games over .500 (36-26).
The Jazz are currently riding a four-game winning streak that has been led by electrifying performances from second-year guard Donovan Mitchell. Mitchell has averaged 31.8 points during the streak, peaking at a career-high 46 on Saturday night in an impressive win over the Bucks. His relative lack of consistency was a factor in the team’s early season struggles, but as of late he has been a catalyst for their success.
Donovan Mitchell balled out to reach a new career-high pic.twitter.com/xreNNM3dIV— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) March 3, 2019
Utah’s net rating of 6.3 was seventh-best in the league in the month of February, anchored by a fifth-best defensive rating. As is their reputation, the numbers show that their stingy defense can make life tough for any team in the league.
Mitchell duty on the defensive end will most likely be Holiday’s to handle, and that matchup could be the determining factor in the contest. When the Jazz handed the Pelicans their first loss of the season back in October, a well-balanced attack yielded just 10 shots to Mitchell, but they amounted to 22 of the total 132 that blew New Orleans out of the water. On the heels of another signature performance on the defensive end, we can expect that Holiday will step up to the task.
On the offensive end, the Pelicans must limit their turnovers. In the last ten games, 15.7 percent of possessions have resulted in turnovers, third worst in the league. They were somehow able to pull out the win in Denver despite 21 turnovers, but that cannot be a constant should they actually want to compete against one of the conference’s hottest teams.
The play of the Pelicans bigs will be, well, big in this contest as well. Expect Randle, Jahlil Okafor and Cheick Diallo to have their hands full on both ends against Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert. Despite their lack of spacing, the pair continues to wreak havoc. As a unit, they average 26.7 points and 20.3 rebounds. Favors often comes off the court in crunch time, ceding minutes to Jae Crowder as the team goes small. Considering that it is unlikely Anthony Davis plays in the fourth quarter, this could actually play into the Pelicans hands: they will not need to worry about getting out-muscled down low and would likely have the size advantage should they opt to keep a couple of bigs on the floor.
The win at Denver will go down as one of the team’s best of the year. Soon after, the Los Angeles Lakers fell to the league-worst Phoenix Suns. That was a good basketball day. Hopefully Monday will be too.
Let’s geaux, Pels!
Pelicans: Payton - Holiday - Kenrich - Randle - Davis
Utah: Rubio - Mitchell - Ingles - Favors - Gobert
Where To Watch/Listen
What: New Orleans Pelicans (29-36) at Utah Jazz (36-26)
Where: Vivint Smart Home Arena, Salt Lake City, UT
When: Monday, March 4th, 2019. 8:00 PM CST
How: FSNO, 99.5 FM WRNO