The Utah Jazz entered Smoothie King Center playing their best ball of the season, with 10 wins in their previous 11 games, but New Orleans impressively had a chance to pull out the win late. However, the ball — nor referee whistles — went their way down the stretch so naturally the 128-126 defeat left a painful sting. One good thing about the NBA though is that a difficult loss can quickly be erased by the other 81 games on the schedule.
Having won six of their last nine and shockingly sitting only four games in back of the 8th seed in the West, the Pelicans have a wonderful opportunity to get back on track versus a mediocre Bulls team struggling to find their footing in the East for a third straight season.
Chicago is also arriving in New Orleans in a bit of a tailspin, having lost four straight, and in general they are not a very good basketball team. Possessing a rather impotent 43.0 field goal percentage, the Bulls are the worst shooting team in the league, and their offensive rating only surpasses the Warriors and Hawks on the stat sheet. However, this isn’t to say that a New Orleans victory is considered a guarantee.
The Pelicans will be without Jrue Holiday (left elbow contusion) for a second straight contest. Also, the Bulls have an explosive scorer in Zach LaVine, who can put up forty points any given night. After witnessing Bojan Bogdanovic and Joe Ingles, the starting wing combination for the Jazz, combine for 57 points on 33 shots, LaVine could similarly light up a New Orleans squad that will be without their best perimeter defender.
Another cause for concern is that Chicago’s second-leading scorer, Lauri Markkanen, has righted the ship after a very slow start. Since the NBA calendar flipped to December, The Finnisher — yeah, I’m not a fan of the nickname either — is averaging 18.0 points per game on some stellar shooting (49.8 FG%, 40.8 3PT%, 86.1 FT%). If the Pelicans go small again, Brandon Ingram is going to have his hands full with the much taller and heavier Markkanen who beat up on a stout Mavericks front line in his last game with 26 points and four three-pointers.
One bit of favorable news is that Wendell Carter Jr. has been ruled out with a sprained right ankle injury. Look for Daniel Gafford to draw the start, a player who will probably remind you some of Jaxson Hayes with his fine blocking and dunking ability around the rim.
Daniel Gafford quite *literally* throwing it DOWN pic.twitter.com/hsyhxHWXKM— Nick Angstadt (@NickVanExit) January 7, 2020
Despite some talented individuals on the Bulls side, New Orleans should have an edge in that category even though they’ll be missing Jrue and Zion Williamson. Ingram has been spectacular all season and Lonzo Ball has looked like a star in the team’s previous four games as he’s topped the 20-point barrier each time out.
Lonzo Ball with his 4th straight 20-point game!— Ballislife.com (@Ballislife) January 7, 2020
21 PTS | 8 REB | 7 AST
Zo's average over those games:
53% FG pic.twitter.com/KX2fn4a6NM
In support of the two former Los Angeles Lakers, Derrick Favors has turned into a necessary and reliable force in the paint. New Orleans has posted a 6-3 record in games D-Fave has received 28 or more minutes. Additional fire power should also be provided by E’Twaun Moore and JJ Redick as both players have shot the three ball well for some time now.
If New Orleans does eke out the victory on Wednesday, I’m half expecting a mystery contributor to step forward and give the Pelicans a nice boost. While Josh Hart will receive a lot of minutes in place of Holiday, he has really struggled with his shot since spraining his knee and ankle in a contest against the Rockets back in November. Thus, I’m hoping Nickeil Alexander-Walker, who was a +9 against the Jazz in 15 minutes of action, sees solid playing time for a second straight contest because he could be that surprise but useful guy off the bench. After Tuesday’s practice, NAW spent a lot of time afterwards with several coaches and staff working on his decision-making and finishing — and he looked pretty darn good.
Where To Watch/Listen
What: New Orleans Pelicans (12-25) vs Chicago Bulls (13-24)
Where: Smoothie King Center - New Orleans, LA
When: Wednesday, January 8th, 2019 7:00 PM CST
How: FSNO, NBCH