Game On: Pelicans @ Knicks

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Published: January 19, 2015

In typical 2014-15 Pelicans fashion, New Orleans followed up arguably their ugliest loss of the year in Philly with one of their most impressive victories of the season last night in Toronto. 24 hours later, they’ll square off with the one Eastern Conference team which boasts a worse record than the 76ers – the New York Knicks.  There really aren’t enough bad things to be said about this Knicks team, as they are current owners of a jaw-dropping 16 game losing streak, have only collected one win since November, and haven’t finished a game within single digits of their opponent in 3 weeks. Sure, Carmelo Anthony has missed a decent chunk of these games, but that hardly excuses a record of 1-26 in the Knicks’ past 27 games.

If I haven’t done enough to jinx the Pelicans yet, I’ll come right out and say it – whether or not Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday can play tonight, New Orleans is most certainly the more talented team (while knocking on every piece of wood in my apartment). That being said, the Knicks have been outscored by about 3 points fewer per game (-9) than the 76ers (-12), so there is a decent argument to be made that – especially with Carmelo Anthony back in the lineup – this Knicks team is superior to the group that beat the Pelicans on Friday night. Therefore, as we New Orleans fans have learned so well this season, Monty Williams and Co. cannot take anything for granted.

What To Watch For

  • Convert Second Chance Opportunities. The Knicks’ defensive rebound rate of 71.7% is the worst in the NBA, so the Pelicans duplicating their strong (Davis-less) offensive rebounding effort in Toronto will be key. Anderson, Asik, and Ajinca combined for as many offensive boards (7) as the entire Raptors team last night, and they should have just as many opportunities tonight, if not more. Obviously, Anthony Davis would be extremely helpful in this effort, but he shouldn’t be essential for New Orleans to succeed.
  • Don’t Give Out Free Throw Line Trips. The Knicks draw the fewest fouls in the league as a percentage of their total field goal attempts, averaging just over one free throw for every five shots (.216 to be exact). If Davis can’t go tonight, Ajinca should expect to see heavy minutes again, and if there is one part of his game stopping him from becoming a regular contributor for the Pelicans, it’s his foul rate. Simply put, there should be no reason for Alexis to get into serious foul trouble against a team like New York. Apart from Ajinca, the entire New Orleans team can’t let the Knicks get easy points at the free throw line.
  • Encourage Low-Percentage Shots. The Knicks have attempted the fewest shots in the league at the rim, and the most in the league from mid-range (converting them at about a 40% rate, right around league average). Unfortunately, largely due to shoddy perimeter defense, the Pelicans have allowed more shots at the rim than any other team in the NBA. If the Pelicans can make sure that this pattern continues, then they’ll instantly be in great shape to come out of tonight’s game victorious. Apart from Anthony, New York doesn’t have many players who are particularly good at finishing inside even when they get there, so Asik should be able to disrupt them in the rare instance that they get shots off in the restricted area.
  • Make Calderon “Defend”. Assuming the Knicks start Calderon and Larkin in their back court as they did last game, they’ll have one decent defender and another who is terrible. Whichever Pelicans guard is defended by Calderon should be looking to attack early and often. Get this New York defense (second worst in the NBA this season) off-balance from the start, force unwanted rotations, and find good looks.
  • Draw Contact + Convert Free Throws. Shockingly, the Knicks have allowed the third-fewest points in the paint in the NBA this season. That being said, part of that stat can be explained by heavy fouling – New York has given up the 4th-most free throws on average, allowing opponents to shoot nearly 25 per game. With or without Jrue, Pelicans guards (looking at you, Tyreke) can’t shy away from contact so they can earn trips to the charity stripe. Furthermore, it’s not like the worst team in the NBA has a terribly deep bench, so getting Knicks players in foul trouble also wouldn’t hurt.

UPDATE (3 PM): Monty Williams announces that both Jrue Holiday and Anthony Davis will be out again tonight.

How about back-to-back wins for a change, guys? What do you think? Do the Pelicans finally get back above .500 tonight? Post your keys to victory in the comments below!

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