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Pelicans’ emerging firepower versus Rockets’ surprising defense makes for enticing matchup

Hey, New Orleans is trending up again

Milwaukee Bucks v New Orleans Pelicans Photo by Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE via Getty Images

Following their biggest victory of the season, the reward is the first back-to-back on the schedule.

The New Orleans Pelicans will host a very unfamiliar looking Houston Rockets’ squad a day after beating Jrue Holiday and the Milwaukee Bucks by an exhilarating 131-126 score. Saturday’s matchup should be an interesting one for several reasons, too.

A few players of New Orleans’ yesteryear have assembled on the now post-James Harden Rockets. In addition to Eric Gordon, DeMarcus Cousins and Christian Wood are prominent members of Houston’s rotation. While Boogie is trying to prove he strongly resembles the player before injuries robbed him the vast majority of the last three years, Wood is making a strong case for the 2021 All-Star game with averages of 23.4 points, 10.8 rebounds, 1.7 threes and 1.7 blocks.

It’s really hard to believe that three teams (Milwaukee, New Orleans and Detroit) all let such a gifted talent slip through their fingers despite the murmurs of red flags through the grape vine. Considering the uneven play from Nicolo Melli and Jaxson Hayes, how great would a big of Wood’s caliber look alongside Steven Adams and Zion Williamson?

Onto sunnier thoughts, the Pelicans are riding a two-game winning streak. They’re 4-3 inside the Smoothie King Center and have three more games remaining on this home stand. But before anyone decides to celebrate on Bourbon Street, the Rockets are arriving in New Orleans having won four straight and they’re making unexpected waves defensively.

PJ Tucker, John Wall, Jae’Sean Tate, David Nwaba and Sterling Brown have been lauded for their defensive ability, but the largest amount of credit might need to go to first-year head coach Stephen Silas and the new front office led by Rafael Stone. It’s pretty incredible to think that when they were hired, two unhappy superstars resided in Houston. Now Russell Westbrook is in Washington D.C. and Harden in Brooklyn, but the Rockets appear to have rebounded well. They are sporting the second-best defense (102.7 defensive rating) in the league since The Beard was traded to the Nets.

Interestingly though, the Pelicans have the sixth most effective offense (114.1 offensive rating) over the same time frame. Zion Williamson (26.1 points, 6.9 rebounds, 3.3 assists) and Brandon Ingram (24.3 points, 3.6 assists, 2.6 threes) have been carrying the load as they have all season, but the supporting cast is finally earning their paychecks over the last few weeks. Eric Bledsoe (16.6 points, 4.4 rebounds, 2.7 threes), Lonzo Ball (13.6 points, 5.6 assists, 3.0 threes), Nickeil Alexander-Walker (12.8 points, 4.3 rebounds) and Josh Hart (7.4 points, 6.5 rebounds) have largely performed admirably the last eight games.

Will one of the league’s hotter offenses or defenses prevail Saturday evening?

The talent is suddenly trending in the right direction as the Pelicans showed out against the Bucks. Maybe they’ll follow up their latest performance with a solid encore, adding a little more validity to the positive turnaround.

Who: New Orleans Pelicans (7-10) vs Houston Rockets (8-9)

When: January 30, 7:00 p.m. Central

Where to watch: FSNO

Where to listen: ESPN 100.3 FM

For more Pelicans talk, subscribe to The Bird Calls podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow this author on Twitter at @OlehKosel.