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NBA Preview: Keys for Pelicans to snare upset win over Jazz

Herb Jones vs Donovan Mitchell??

New Orleans Pelicans v Utah Jazz Photo by Jeff Swinger/NBAE via Getty Images

Following a commanding win over the Washington Wizards, the New Orleans Pelicans (4-16) will look to keep the momentum going as they open a back-to-back two-game series in Utah against the Jazz (12-6) Friday night. The Jazz will be a tall test for the Pels as Utah is on pace to another stellar regular season, currently sitting in third place in the Western Conference.

After point guard Devonte’ Graham returned to the lineup, New Orleans should have a near healthy roster, with Zion Williamson being the only key member out. The Jazz have no one listed on their injury report.

Keys To the Game

  • Defend the three-point line
  • Win the rebounding battle
  • Keep Utah off the free throw line

Utah is one of the more prolific three-point shooting teams in the NBA. Currently, the Jazz rank second in the NBA in three-point attempts. Utah likes to penetrate the defense with star point guard Donovan Mitchell and kick out to a myriad of terrific shooters on the perimeter. If the Pelicans aren’t careful, things could get out of hand quickly as New Orleans is 23rd in the NBA in opponent made three-point percentage. New Orleans will need to limit Utah from deep to have a chance to steal this game as the Jazz are only 27th in the NBA in two point field goal shooting percentage.

New Orleans Pelicans v Utah Jazz Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images

An area where both teams are strong is rebounding, ranking in the top ten. One of the most interesting matchups of the game will be the battle at center: Jonas Valanciunas versus Rudy Gobert, the 2020-21 Kia NBA Defensive Player of the Year.

Gobert has been a stalwart in the league for years so it will be fun to watch him try to stop Valanciunas, who is in the mist of another great season averaging 19.2 points and 12.5 rebounds. The Pelicans often struggle to score so they rely heavily on Valanciunas’ production every night. If he can’t get it going against Gobert, especially forcing the Jazzman to guard him out on the perimeter, New Orleans will have few routes to victory.

The Pelicans will also probably need forward Brandon Ingram to repeat his performance from two nights ago. Ingram has struggled with inconsistency since returning from his early season hip injury; however, he did score 26 points on 9-15 shooting against the Wizards. This could be a tough matchup for Ingram, though, as Utah has several solid wing defenders, with Royce O’Neal the designated stopper. B.I. will need to find his teammates for open shots if Utah doesn’t allow him to get to his spots.

Lastly, watch for how Willie Green’s coaching staff approaches defending Donovan Mitchell. In several games this season, Green has chosen to place rookie Herb Jones on the opponent’s best scorer regardless of position. Let’s see how Jones fares against another one of the NBA’s elite guards. Jones has truly been one of the bright spots in a tough season for the Pelicans, but he’ll have to be mindful of not being too aggressive and having foul trouble hamper his minutes.

Not needing help defenders to leave their assignments would go a long way in keeping the Jazz off the free throw line. Utah ranks second in both makes and attempts from the charity stripe.

Strong fundamentals paved the way to a dominant 127-102 win over the Wizards. Executing the game plan intelligently again should give the Pelicans a real chance for victory — perhaps resulting in the team’s first win streak of the season.

Who: New Orleans Pelicans (4-16) at Utah Jazz (12-6)

When: November 26, 2021, 8:00 pm

Where to watch: Bally Sports New Orleans, League Pass

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 @Jamdunn06.