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Pelicans are playing winning basketball, time for some payback versus Rockets

The Lonzo-Bledsoe-Ingram-Zion-Adams starting lineup is smoking hot again!

NBA: Houston Rockets at New Orleans Pelicans Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

After being left for dead and trade rumors swirling about, the New Orleans Pelicans are flying high, having won five of their last seven games, and they’ll have a chance to atone for one of those two losses on Tuesday evening.

The Houston Rockets are in town again. Eleven days ago, they knocked off the Pelicans by a 126-112 score, and to refresh some memories, that was the last time an opponent proved simply more competitive than New Orleans.

Following a good start, the Pelicans were walloped by the Rockets in the 2nd quarter, 48-22. They failed to mount much of a charge for the rest of the game, too.

Although Zion Williamson scored 26 points, Christian Wood finished as the most impactful player on the court (27 points, nine rebounds, 3-4 from three-point range), and Jae’sean Tate (13 points, nine rebounds, three steals), as the most energetic.

While nothing should be ruled out for a 10-12 team, it’s difficult to surmise a similar outcome could be in store for New Orleans. Houston will be without Wood (sprained right ankle) and Victor Oladipo (rest). In addition, they’re arriving as losers in three of their last four. Remember, the Rockets came in riding a four-game winning streak in that first matchup with the Pelicans.

Just as Houston has cooled, New Orleans is as hot as they’ve been all season, having won three straight. While the defense has remained spotty at times, the offense has been on absolute fire.

Over their last seven games, the Pelicans are averaging the fourth most points (118.7) and the seventh fewest amount of turnovers (12.3) in the league. That’s a potent combination. Perhaps more obvious to common fans, New Orleans is getting darn good play from all their starters (+37.4 net rating for the starting lineup) and receiving enough timely contributions from the bench.

While Steven Adams has been a rock and Zion and Brandon Ingram have put up numbers from the outset, now the young star duo has added more playmaking and defense to their repertoires, Lonzo Ball, Eric Bledsoe and JJ Redick have been reliable sources of offense, and Willy Hernangomez has provided far greater stability than Jaxson Hayes.

The Pelicans seem to have nestled into a nice comfort zone, including coming up big down the stretch as the last two wins have come in clutch minutes. However, there may be nothing more determinative regarding the wins and losses than a single stat — the team’s three-point shooting.

When they’ve shot 36% or better from behind the arc for the game, New Orleans is 9-2 on the season. When they’ve failed to eclipse that percentage, the record is a very telling 1-10. The phrase, “it’s a make-or-miss league,” has never rang truer.

One other item of note: Josh Hart (back spasms) is listed as questionable. If he can’t go, does Stan Van Gundy entrust Nickeil Alexander-Walker to fill his shoes or roll with the seldom-used Sindarius Thornwell?

Hopefully, the head coach chooses wisely and New Orleans can close out the home stand in strong fashion. Following this game versus Houston, the Pelicans leave immediately for Chicago to play the Bulls on the second night of a back-to-back — and the three subsequent games will come away from friendly confines, too.

Who: New Orleans Pelicans (10-12) vs Houston Rockets (11-12)

When: February 9, 6:30 p.m. Central

Where to watch: FSNO, TNT

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.