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Pelicans should get tested by Pacers, another 4-2 team featuring a sturdy frontline

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Ready for Zion Williamson/Steven Adams vs Domantas Sabonis/Myles Turner??

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Phoenix Suns Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

In the 15 seasons prior to this one, the New Orleans Pelicans have won at least four of their first six games only five times.

In only two of those seasons did they collect their fifth win before their third loss (2007-08, 2010-11).

The Pelicans will look to buck that trend when they face the Indiana Pacers (4-2) on Monday night in the second game of their current four-game home stand.

Indiana is a “small-market” team that has been a consistent postseason presence, reaching the playoffs nine times in the last 10 seasons, twice advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals. In many ways, they are what the Pelicans aspire to be. It will be a great early season measuring stick to see if New Orleans is getting closer to consistency, or if they’re riding the same roller coaster as so many other teams across the NBA.

Brandon Ingram’s individual brilliance aside, the Pelicans have not ridden an explosive offense to get off to their winning start.

Stan Van Gundy has turned the Pelicans into one of the stingiest defensive teams in the NBA; ranking:

  • Fourth in Defensive Rating (103.7)
  • Second in points allowed (102.0 ppg)
  • Fourth in opponent’s shooting percentage (43.1)
  • Eighth in opponent’s three point percentage (34.0)
  • First in opponent’s free throw attempts (17.3)
  • Second in Defensive Rebounding percentage (77.4)
  • Ninth in steals (9.0)
  • Second in Points in the Paint allowed (38.0)

The one caveat to their defensive success has been the teams that it has come against. Of the Pelicans’ first five opponents, only the Phoenix Suns can be found in the top half of the NBA’s offensive ratings.

That makes the Indiana Pacers a very different type of test for New Orleans, with their talented roster that includes Domantas Sabonis, Malcolm Brogdon, Victor Oladipo, and Myles Turner. TJ Warren, who had a breakout season last year, is out after undergoing surgery to correct a stress fracture in his left foot.

Even without Warren, the Pacers rank sixth in the NBA in Offensive Rating, posting a 112.6 mark through six games. Indiana also sits at sixth in Net Rating so far this season, five spots ahead of the Pels.

To get some greater insight on this year’s Pacers, I contacted Alex Golden of IndySportsLegends.com and host of the Setting the Pace podcast.

On how the Pacers will look to attack the Pelicans offensively:

“The Pacers new offense under Nate Bjorkgren emphasizes that the team takes open threes and gets to the basket. It’s very seldom that they take midrange jumpers, which is drastically different from their previous system under Nate McMillan. New Orleans presents a lineup of two bigs who can go toe to toe with Sabonis and Turner, but Indiana will utilize Sabonis in almost every action they run. If Indiana is able to get Adams in pick and roll action, Oladipo and Brogdon will look to attack, based on how New Orleans defends the pick and roll. If the Pelicans switch, the guards will attack the bigs, similar to how Oladipo attacked (Tristan) Thompson/(Daniel) Theis/(Robert) Williams against Boston last Tuesday evening.”

On the matchup between Sabonis/Turner and Williamson/Adams:

“Turner hasn’t been good from the arc this season, but we’ve seen that he’s a solid three-point shooter throughout his career. Turner has also done a good job of attacking the basket, especially if a big closes out on him this season. Sabonis has been incredibly efficient from three this season. While still a small sample size, he’s taking threes and extending his range. New York and Boston did a terrific job of limiting Sabonis‘ clean looks at the rim, forcing him to take bad shots. New Orleans defense can impact Sabonis in that way with the physical defense of Adams. Defensively, Turner has been protecting the rim at an elite level. He will make it difficult to score on at the rim. Indiana had a horrific night rebounding night against New York, so I’d anticipate Indiana emphasizing that Monday against New Orleans.”

Who matches up with Brandon Ingram on the defensive end?:

“With no T.J. Warren, Indiana might place Malcolm Brogdon on Ingram, similar to when Bjorkgren had him guard Jayson Tatum. It’s only been a few times, but Bjorkgren has thrown a box-and-1 defense at the opposing team, and Indiana has also ran zone at times. Indiana never switched under McMillan, but now, they will switch on almost every pick and roll/pop actions. I’d anticipate Justin Holiday drawing this assignment as well. If Ingram is too much for the one on one matchup, don’t be surprised if Indiana sends double teams to force Ingram to be a facilitator, and not a scorer.”

Brogdon vs. Bledsoe:

“The history between Brogdon and Bledsoe is something to keep an eye on this game. With Milwaukee essentially picking Bledsoe over Brogdon, you have to imagine Brogdon will always take each game against Bledsoe personally. If you watch carefully, Brogdon has been working diligently on shooting off the dribble to his left. So far so good. Brogdon doesn’t do a great job of finishing at the rim, but he’s still smart enough to create opportunities for himself, despite how good his defender is. New York did a good job of eliminating Oladipo’s impact on Saturday, and he’s had some hot shooting nights to start the season. Sabonis will constantly try to create space for him and Brogdon with DHOs and PNR actions. The separation Sabonis can create on these actions will determine how successful the Pels are.”

With the Pelicans facing Oklahoma City and Charlotte to close their home stand before heading out on a seven-game road trip, Indiana presents a great opportunity to pick up a quality win against a top-tier opponent.

To do that, New Orleans will have to maintain its defensive excellence and hope that another game brings them closer to finding greater success offensively.

Who: New Orleans Pelicans (4-2) vs Indiana Pacers (4-2)

When: January 4, 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 @DMGrubb.