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Pelicans face good test in Indiana against Pacers

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Los Angeles Lakers Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The Pelicans are off to a 5-4 start, but digging through the numbers, that record doesn’t seem appropriate. New Orleans’ winning percentage should be higher.

The Jazz, for instance, have precisely the same offensive rating (114.1) and a slightly better defensive rating (109.0 vs 109.4), yet they sit second in the West with an 8-3 record.

Thanks, three overtime losses in nine games.

If Matt Ryan and Dejounte Murray had missed those last second regulation jumpers, or an additional free throw was converted (Besides Dyson Daniels’ two key misses against the Lakers, the Pels made 5 of 9 from the line in the fourth quarter against the Hawks), the Pelicans would be sitting pretty at 7-2 — the same record as the conference-leading Suns.

All of this is to say, relax. New Orleans very much appears to be a good team. Working out several kinks or tweaking a few things could go a long way.

It must be noted, though, the player rotations have actually been much better than many have credited Willie Green and his coaching staff.

Everyone knows about the early-season dominance witnessed from the preferred starting lineup, but did you know that 14 of the 17 most commonly used lineups have a positive net rating?

Or how about the fact that eight of the 10 most commonly used fourth quarter lineups have a positive net rating?

Next to CJ McCollum, Larry Nance Jr. has accumulated the most fourth quarter minutes and for good reason. He’s made 19 of 24 field goals (79.2 FG%). He’s also the most versatile big on the roster, able to switch and defend a variety of opponents.

But did you know that Devonte’ Graham has made seven of 10 field goals — five of eight 3-pointers — and has a better defended field goal percentage than Dyson Daniels or Jose Alvarado in fourth quarters?

The rule of small sample sizes applies greatly here though, as does not putting all one’s stock into a narrow perspective.

For example, we should all prefer watching a more abled Alvarado or Daniels be assigned a task of stopping an opposing guard in a key situation rather than Graham.

Moving onto tonight’s opponent, the Pacers have surprised a lot of people in the early going. They haven’t astounded on say the Jazz’s level, but Indiana has been a better team than anticipated.

Tyrese Haliburton has taken another step, downright looking like an All-Star with averages of 21.9 points, 5.1 rebounds, 9.3 assists and 1.7 steals while knocking on the door of 50-40-90 shooting percentages.

Buddy Hield is on pace to enjoy his best season as a professional too, with 18.6 points, 5.8 rebounds and 3.7 assists. He remains as deadly as ever from 3-point range, knocking down 4.1 treys per game on 42.5% shooting.

But the most fun player to talk about might be Bennedict Mathurin. My top choice for the Pelicans once the draft lottery was decided is off to a sensational start as a professional, averaging 20.7 points and 3.9 rebounds.

All three of these guards can get hot in a hurry, and they’re fantastic at making you pay for defensive breakdowns from behind the 3-point line. That must be New Orleans’ primary objective: don’t get burned from deep.

Indiana is averaging the fourth-most 3-point field goal attempts per game (39.6) in the league, knocking down 36.8% of their looks.

They’re also relatively proficient at getting to the free throw line and converting.

They’re just a solid basketball team, as evidenced by recent wins over the Heat and Nets.

The Pelicans have the firepower to beat the Pacers on their home floor. But it’ll take a 48-minute effort of playing to their strengths, like beating Indiana up inside the lane. New Orleans must also remember to consistently run them off the 3-point line.

Let’s get back in the win column.

Who: New Orleans Pelicans (5-4) at Indiana Pacers (4-5)

When: November 7, 2022, 6:45 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.