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With Pelicans hosting Knicks, all eyes on RJ vs Zion, but Williamson battling Randle feels like main event

This matchup between New Orleans and New York looks juicy!

2020 NBA All-Star - Rising Stars Media Availability and Practice Photo by Juan Ocampo/NBAE via Getty Images

The Pelicans are one of several teams currently sporting the third-best win steak in the league. Another squad riding three wins in a row: the Knicks — the Pels’ opponent tonight.

The similarities don’t end there.

Like Zion Williamson’s production in New Orleans, New York is led by a dynamic power forward. Not only is Julius Randle carrying the scoring load for the Knicks (23.0 points per game), he’s also their most reliable playmaker (6.0 assists per game).

Where Randle will have the edge on Williamson is from the perimeter. If you haven’t been paying attention, Julius has become a very good 3-point shooter this season. Among those players attempting at least five threes per game, Randle ranks the 29th most efficient bomber at 39.8%. He’s a deadlier big from the outside than KAT, Porzingis or Markannen, for instance.

Williamson lacks the range of nearly all opponents; however, he makes up for that deficit by eating them alive inside the lane. Zion is the league leader in points in the paint (20.0 PITP). His nearest competitor, Giannis Antetokounmpo, sits at 16.9 PITP, with Nikola Jokic trailing them both at 14.4 PITP. Randle clocks in much farther down the list, 53rd to be exact, at 8.3 PITP — even RJ Barrett sits higher at 8.9 PITP.

Many are eagerly anticipating the two former teammates at Duke going at each other for the first time in a regular season NBA game, but the matchup to watch in my opinion will be Randle vs Williamson. They have similar frames, they’re both intensely competitive and they are two young leaders on teams trying to find the postseason in years.

(To be fair, the New York’s playoff drought is much longer than New Orleans,’ but recalling Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday smash the Trail Blazers feels like it happened eons ago, doesn’t it?)

While Randle has improved defensively, he’s not going to be able to handle Point Zion one-on-one. That’s not a slight, New Yorkers. No one can. However, Randle will have good support near the rim.

Nerlens Noel has been one of the best signings from the past offseason, no doubt. He was expected to be Mitchell Robinson’s backup, but Noel’s been pressed into larger duty thanks to injury. Robinson missed time earlier this season with a broken hand and now his season is likely over after having surgery to repair a fractured fifth metatarsal in his right foot.

For those curious about Barrett, he’ll probably have his hands full with guarding Ingram when Reggie Bullock isn’t tasked with the job. Due to RJ’s sophomore leap, though, Brandon should expect just as stiff of a test from the Knicks’ developing wing. Barrett’s offense has improved across the board, but there’s signs that he’s growing into a legitimate two-way player.

Not bad on the ball defense against Kawhi Leonard in the clip above as well as the showing of good help on a Marvin Bagley Jr. drive by Barrett.

There’s not much to say about the rest of the starting lineups other than the obvious: Steven Adams’ rebounding and help defense are going to be important and Eric Bledsoe is going to have play better than we’ve seen over the last few games. But one additional matchup that could be fun: Immanuel Quickley vs Kira Lewis Jr.

These two 6’3 rookies from the 2020 draft class have shown some serious glimpses. Quickley’s game is more about putting the ball through the hoop — I’ve gotten Jamal Crawford vibes from watching him play — while Lewis’ imprint is more of the all-around variety.

I’ll be honest, I’m really excited about tonight’s matchup. I seriously can’t remember the last time that I was this amped up to see the Knicks in New Orleans. In addition, to all the highlighted player matchups, listening to Tom Thibodeau and Stan Van Gundy screaming from the sidelines is sure to be a treat in itself.

The drive for four consecutive victories should be a blast.

Who: New Orleans Pelicans (25-29) vs New York Knicks (28-27)

When: April 14, 7:00 p.m. Central

Where to watch: Bally Sports NOLA

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.