After their impressive 107-91 road victory over the Dallas Mavericks, the New Orleans Pelicans end their two-game swing through Texas on Sunday with a matchup against the Houston Rockets.
The Pelicans defeated Dallas with their defense, holding the Mavs to 40.5 percent shooting just one game after the Mavericks roasted the Pelicans with a record-setting shooting performance.
New Orleans was even better on the perimeter, allowing just 10 three-pointers on 34 attempts from beyond the arc.
For a team as limited with personnel and experience as the Pelicans, there is only one path to victory. And that’s by getting stops consistently.
This season, New Orleans has held opponents to under 45 percent shooting 10 times. In those games the Pelicans are 6-4. They are 1-14 in the remaining 15 games.
As long as Zion Williamson is out of the lineup, the offense will continue to languish in the lower third of the league rankings, but defensive effort is something that the Pelicans can control, and far too often they just haven’t put that effort forward.
New Orleans remains 29th in defensive rating, despite winning six of its last 12 games, precisely because it has not shown the ability to string together more than a night or two in a row of solid defense.
Those are incredible swings in production. In their victories, the Pelicans are playing better basketball than the Golden State Warriors on both ends of the floor. But when they lose, they play historically bad defense.
To put it into perspective, the Memphis Grizzlies currently rank last in the NBA with a 112.3 defensive rating. Last season’s Pelicans, the worst defensive team in franchise history, finished with a DRtg of 113.8.
After being stuck on the launchpad for the most of the season, Houston has finally taken off with a five-game winning streak. Offensively, the Rockets are red hot, averaging 119.6 points per game and shooting better than 40 percent from deep.
Coach Stephen Silas has his team sharing the basketball and the scoring load, with six players averaging double figures during the streak. Former Pelicans forward Christian Wood leads the Rockets with 18.6 points, 12.2 rebounds, and 1.8 blocks per game.
Every player on the Houston Roster is a potential threat from deep, but the Pels will have to pay special attention to Garrison Matthews, Armoni Brooks, and Pelicans’ fan favorite Eric Gordon.
So, which team shows up on Sunday night against the Rockets?
Will it be the Pelicans that communicate and play defense on a string, or the Pelicans that look like cats chasing one?
Based on what we’ve seen lately, it’s anybody’s guess.
Who: New Orleans Pelicans (7-18) at Houston Rockets (6-16)
When: December 5, 2021, 6:00 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 @DMGrubb.