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Pelicans have versatility but execution is paramount against Raptors

Toronto thrives in the open floor. New Orleans cannot afford to give them too many opportunities.

Toronto Raptors v New Orleans Pelicans Photo by Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE via Getty Images

The Pelicans will be without Brandon Ingram, CJ McCollum and Naji Marshall in their matchup against the Raptors tonight in the Smoothie King Center. Larry Nance Jr., however, will be available after missing the last game against the Thunder with a sore right shoulder.

The return of New Orleans’ backup center is an important one. There is no team that’s bought into smaller lineups as much as Toronto. Their preferred starting five, for instance, consists of no one taller than the average power forward.

“It just seems that’s where basketball is headed,” Nance said after this morning’s shootaround. “A bunch of guys from 6’4 to 6’9 that can just play one through five and run the court. Toronto’s definitely one of the teams ahead of the curve on that. I like to think we’re doing alright ourselves.”

The Pelicans have gone small multiple times this season, with or without Nance. Zion Williamson has anchored the five in several lineups. Also, Dyson Daniels spent a few minutes as the small-ball five against the Grizzlies on Nov. 15.

All of this is to say, the Pelicans have the versatility to contend with the Raptors tonight. The question is, can they execute well enough to beat a team that pushes the envelope, creating turnovers and thriving in the open floor?

I’m hopeful Jonas Valanciunas can exploit Toronto for playing small, but Willie Green has the luxury of selecting any playing style he so chooses. That’ll be key, finding what works best, yet the Pelicans must embrace smart basketball because no team pounces quite like the Raptors.

While Toronto has the second-lowest turnover percentage, no one forces more turnovers on the other end. Additionally, they’re the best at converting opponent mistakes into points, ranking first in points off turnovers.

They’re also first in fast break points and second-chance points. That’s right, the smallish Raptors are one of the league’s best rebounding teams ... on both ends.

So, not only must the Pelicans be cognizant of dribbling and the passing lanes around Raptor defenders, they must also crash the glass hard, making sure they box-out all assignments.

Toronto is a good squad. No, a very good squad. Their 11-9 record doesn’t do them justice. Much like New Orleans, injuries have hampered some results.

Pascal Siakam, who has been otherworldly with a line of 24.1 points, 9.5 rebounds and 7.4 assists, has appeared in half their games so far. Fred VanVleet has missed six contests. Scottie Barnes and Gary Trent Jr. have each been sidelined for three.

Currently, Precious Achiuwa is out with a right ankle sprain. Otto Porter is also unavailable after suffering a toe dislocation on his left foot.

The Pelicans have the ability to fetch the victory against the Raptors despite missing several key players. However, they’ll have to be mindful with the basketball. If they put together a game that features close to 20 turnovers — as they’ve had twice in the last three (@ SAS, vs OKC), there will be very little chance to earn the win.

Who: New Orleans Pelicans (12-8) vs Toronto Raptors (11-9)

When: November 30, 2022, 7:00 p.m. CT

Where to watch: Bally Sports New Orleans, League Pass

Where to listen: WRNO 99.5

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.