The Pelicans take on the Spurs in a Game that is More than Just a Game

Published: November 8, 2014

The New Orleans Pelicans travel to San Antonio to take on the Spurs tonight, and while we all know that the guard will change one day in the Southwest division, we don’t know how fast that day will come. In 2007, the New Orleans Hornets were considered a young, upstart team and the Spurs were the defending champs. New Orleans wasn’t even projected to make the playoffs that year, but went one step further and actually won the division behind an MVP caliber performance by Chris Paul. And you can argue that a win at San Antonio was the game where they first started believing that they had arrived.

Going into that game at San Antonio, the Hornets had lost 12 of the previous 13 games against San Antonio, and hadn’t won in San Antonio for four years. But on that night, the Hornets not only beat San Antonio – they blew them out. And that game wound up being the game that decided the Southwest title. New Orleans trailed by 1 at halftime, and as Byron Scott and Popovich both entered the locker room, the smart money would have been to bet on the Spurs to make adjustments and beat New Orleans yet again. But that is not what happened. The Hornets used their young legs to run the Spurs out of their own building that night, winning 102-78 behind 32 from David West, 22 from Peja, and 17/11 from CP3.

It was worth one win in the column, but knowing that they can go into the champs house and destroy them meant so much more for a young team that had the talent, but needed the confidence. A win tonight can mean something similar for this young Pelicans team. While they look fantastic in short stretches over the last two seasons, they have not been able to beat good teams. Last year, they were just 12-36 against +.500 teams, with the vast majority coming against the (L)Eastern Conference. This year, they are 2-0 against the East, but 0-2 against high-end Western Conference team. So a win here could mean more than just another notch in the standings. It could provide a boost that could carry this team for the next few months. But how do they get it? How can they beat the Spurs? Here are a couple of keys to victory:

1. Heavy Minutes from the Asik/AD combo

With Tiago Splitter out, we are going to see a lot of Boris Diaw, Aaron Baynes, and Matt Bonner up front next to Tim Duncan. Good luck to any of those guys trying to keep AD or Asik off the glass. On the other end, these are the best two pick and roll defenders that the Pelicans have, and we can expect the Spurs to go heavy pick and roll tonight. So far, the AD/Ryno front court has been great offensively and passable defensively, but the Ryno/Asik combo hasn’t been good on either end. Asik should be on the court every minute that Duncan is on while AD gets 40-42 minutes, dominating whatever poor guy the Spurs put next to Duncan. Anderson can get 20 minutes as a big and maybe a few minutes at SF when Kawhi is on the court, but expect to see more Asik tonight.

2. Keep San Antonio (specifically Ginobli) off the line

The Spurs shots aren’t falling yet this year and they have actually been quite sloppy,¬†turning it over at a high rate. They have won games because they have recognized this and made it a priority to get to the line. Duncan gets there the most, but with AD and Asik defending him, they should be able to neutralize that. The trick is keeping the crazy Argentinian off the stripe, and that will require a team defense all working together. Individually, Rivers has been a terrific defender who does not foul or make bonehead mistakes. The only guys who have really given Rivers trouble this year are guys who have a significant strength advantage on him. That is not Ginobli. Keep Manu off the line and stay out of the bonus in general and a win is possible tonight.

3. Have Eric Gordon win his matchup with Danny Green

I don’t know what’s crazier – suggesting that this is a necessity or hoping that a $15 million dollar player who was once on his way to All-Star status can outplay a $4 million dollar guy who had one foot out of the league just 3 seasons ago. But here we are and the reality is that Eric Gordon needs to make Green work hard on the defensive end and deny him points on the other side as well. Luckily, Green is in a bit of a slump of his own, shooting just 28.6% from three this season (down from 42% over the last 3 years). Both guys won’t shoot this poorly all year. For the Pelicans sake tonight, they need to hope that Gordon is the one who breaks out of his slump first.


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