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Pelicans’ Hayes, small-ball lineups may be difference maker against Warriors

More mobile and versatile lineups are likely key in slowing down Klay Thompson and Jordan Poole

Portland Trail Blazers v New Orleans Pelicans Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

There’s a good chance that the New Orleans Pelicans will be extremely short-handed once again when they tip-off against the Golden State Warriors tonight.

Josh Richardson will not play for personal reasons, so he’ll be sidelined along with Zion Williamson (right hamstring strain), Larry Nance Jr. (left ankle sprain) and Jose Alvarado (right tibial stress reaction).

In addition, Jonas Valanciunas, who sat out Wednesday’s victory against the Portland Trail Blazers, is listed as doubtful with a left calf contusion on the latest injury report.

Injuries have put a damper on a season that began on such a positive note. The Pelicans were tied for first in the Western Conference towards the end of December. Then the floodgates opened when Brandon Ingram and Williamson missed a lot of time, pushing the team far down the standings.

The doom and gloom of January and parts of February, though, may, at least partially, be in the rearview mirror.

In their convincing 121-110 victory over the Trail Blazers, the Pelicans rediscovered how to be successful on offense and their defense-first identity despite a lot of regulars ailing. A big reason for the immediate improvement stemmed from giving Jaxson Hayes run at the center position and also electing to play small-ball with Herb Jones at the 5.

The data from the four most oft-used lineups in Portland bears this out.

5-man lineup Minutes Offensive Rating Defensive Rating Net Rating AST% REB% TS%
McCollum-Richardson-Ingram-Jonas-Hernangomez 12 120.8 141.7 -20.8 45.5% 47.8% 56.3%
Lewis-Murphy-Ingram-Marshall-Hayes 8 144.4 100.0 +44.4 50.0% 55.6% 67.0%
McCollum-Murphy-Ingram-Marshall-Jones 8 150.0 108.3 +41.7 62.5% 58.8% 60.0%
McCollum-Daniels-Murphy-Marshall-Hernangomez 5 120.0 122.2 -2.2 0% 44.4% 77.3%

A number of New Orleans’ most successful lineups this season have featured Nance at center. In his stead several nights ago, Hayes, Jones and Dyson Daniels filled his void wonderfully. For a refresher, have a look at how the fourth quarter began.

Hayes and Daniels countered Dame’s movements perfectly on every step, not allowing him a driving or passing lane with quick feet and length. End result: a turnover.

The Warriors will present a slightly different challenge in that they utilize the pass perhaps better any other team in the league; however, the concept will remain the same for the Pelicans: don’t let Klay Thompson or Jordan Poole consistently get quality looks.

While Stephen Curry remains out with a leg injury, Thompson and Poole have been asked to carry the offensive load. They’ve often come through in key moments. In the Warriors come-from-behind victory against the Clippers, the Golden State scoring duo combined for 53 points.

The Pelicans must force Donte DiVincenzo, Draymond Green and other less gifted scorers beat them while making life extremely difficult on Thompson and Poole. Accomplish that tall order and New Orleans may wind up with their second consecutive road upset.

Who: New Orleans Pelicans (31-32) at Golden State Warriors (33-30)

When: March 3, 9:00 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.