Pelicans Look to Continue Hot Streak at Home vs. Rockets

Tonight, the red-hot (what?) New Orleans Pelicans host the Houston Rockets in an intra-division match-up with the season series tied at one game apiece. The Pelicans are playing some of their best basketball as of late, winning their past 3 games by a combined 48 points and winning 5 of their last 6 (only losing on the road to the Grizzlies by 2). The Rockets have also looked a bit better recently, winning their last two games, including a double-digit victory at home over the Mavericks last night (the Josh Smith effect, obviously).

With Dwight Howard out due to a left ankle injury, Houston will likely roll out Beverley, Harden, Brewer, Ariza, and Capela as their starting lineup. While Trevor Ariza is a tough, capable defender, Anthony Davis should be able to use his superior size to his advantage inside. The Rockets’ entire front court rotation without Howard is a combination of Ariza, Capela, Terrence Jones, and Josh Smith, which gives Gentry an interesting decision to make regarding how to combat that somewhat “small-ball” group. Asik or Ajinca matching up against Capela makes sense, but he only plays about 25 minutes a night even with Howard out, so it may be tough to find minutes for the Pelicans’ centers apart from that. The Pels have some serious depth issues on the wings with Gordon and Pondexter out, but that didn’t stop Gentry from giving Asik and Ajinca only a combined 28.5 minutes per game in their past two double-digit victories. So, long story short, expect the Pelicans to match small-ball lineups with the Rockets. When it all comes down to it, there is no active player on the Rockets that AD cannot handle, and him playing the 5 opens up so much for the offense. (Of course, it may not be the worst strategy to put one of the centers on Josh Smith and just tell them to hover around the rim on defense, giving Smith all of the jumpers he wants.)

With that, let’s take a look at the three main things that I’m hoping to see from the Pelicans tonight.

  1. Rebound as a team. Though the Rockets certainly miss Howard, they have been able to partially account for his absence by sharing the rebounding load among the guys on the court. That effort has been led by James Harden, who is averaging about 12 boards per 36 minutes in the past 3 games without Dwight. If New Orleans wants to match Houston effectively by going small, they will need a team effort on the glass.
  2. Limit the unproductive fouls. We all know how good James Harden is at getting to the free throw line, so let’s not make it even easier for him to get there. Sending Capela – a career 38.4%(!!!) free throw shooter – to the line is one thing. Fouling Beverley or Brewer out on the perimeter late in the shot clock is something else. Make Harden (and the rest of his team) earn free throws, don’t give them away.
  3. Win the turnover battle. Over the Pelicans last 6 games, they are averaging just over 10 turnovers per game, finishing with single digit turnovers in 4 of those 6 (for comparison’s sake, the current NBA league leader is averaging 12.7 turnovers per game). The Rockets own the league’s third highest turnover rate, but they’re also a top-10 team when it comes to forcing turnovers. By protecting the basketball (which the Pelicans have done a great job of with Jrue Holiday running the offense), they will also have a better chance at accomplishing the first two items on this list as well.

Enjoy the game!

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