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NBA Preview: New Orleans Pelicans arrive in Boston playing well but Celtics considered top 3 team in East for good reason

Brandon Ingram vs Jayson Tatum — remember all the lovely debates fans had prior to New Orleans finalizing the Anthony Davis trade?

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Boston Celtics Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

Tonight’s matchup between the New Orleans Pelicans (14-25) and Boston Celtics (25-11) looks daunting on paper. However, if we limit ourselves to recency bias, New Orleans doesn’t look to be in nearly as much trouble.

On one side of the story, the Pels will playing on the second night of a back-to-back, Derrick Favors’ status is up in the air, and of course, a quick glance at both team’s W/L records clearly throws support at the third seed in the Eastern Conference.

Conversely, since December 23rd, the Pelicans have posted a 7-2 record to the Celtics 5-4 mark, which includes a current three-game losing streak. New Orleans sports the 4th best Net Rating during this span while Boston sits 14th. In addition, the Pelicans three-point shot (39.3 3PT%), which is vital to their success — 10 of the Pels’ 14 wins have come with the team shooting better than 40% from deep, has been dropping at a much better rate than for the Celtics (32.9 3PT%).

Following their most recent loss to the Philadelphia 76ers — in a game without Joel Embiid, Brad Stevens felt that at least his team might be trending in the right direction.

“The league is hard, you can feel pretty good about yourself, and one week later … not so hot. These guys just went through it over here last week, but inevitably there’s another game. If we play like we did tonight, clean some things up and play with a little bit more pop, then I like what we’re becoming. I’m just not as discouraged as I’ve been the last couple of days.”

Against Philly, Stevens said that Josh Richardson really hurt Boston in pick and rolls. Well, versus the Knicks less than 24 hours ago, the Pelicans’ guards found a lot of success running pick and rolls with Jaxson Hayes. Brandon Ingram, in particular, carved up New York’s defense repeatedly.

However, lets throw some ice water on this line of thinking for a minute. While the Sixers were missing Embiid, they still had Al Horford. If Derrick Favors is forced to miss the game due to a hamstring injury he sustained against the Knicks, the drop-off to Hayes and Jahlil Okafor is infinitely larger. There’s little doubt Jax has made strides in his game as the season has progressed, but we shouldn’t expect him to rebound, lock down the paint, or give help like D-Fave for a full 30 minutes against one of the top squads in the league.

That said, the Pelicans could get a boost elsewhere. Jrue Holiday, who has missed three games due to a left elbow tricep strain, could return and significantly impact Saturday’s matchup with his two-way prowess. Holiday’s defense would especially be useful against the trio of Kemba Walker, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum.

Alternatively, if Jrue can’t go, then Ingram, Lonzo Ball and Josh Hart are really going to have to do some heavy lifting. Hey, with how well the former Lakers have been playing of late, the idea of them leading the Pelicans to another surprise victory isn’t all that crazy.

Geaux Pels!

Where To Watch/Listen

What: New Orleans Pelicans (14-25) at Boston Celtics (25-11)

Where: TD Garden - Boston, MA

When: Saturday, January 11th, 2019 6:00 PM CST