Game On: Jazz @ Pelicans

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Published: February 9, 2015

Eric Gordon: “No Davis, Holiday, or Anderson? Hold on y’all, I got this.”

Tonight, an incredibly short-handed Pelicans team hosts the Utah Jazz. In addition to Jrue Holiday’s absence with his right leg injury, New Orleans will also be without Anthony Davis (right shoulder sprain) and likely without Ryan Anderson (right shoulder soreness… what is it with right extremity injuries?). On top of that, Utah has been an improved team as of late, outscored by only 1.2 points per 100 possessions since the new year, compared to -4.1 points per 100 possessions over the season’s first two months. Therefore, this game will likely be a much closer contest than many would have expected a couple weeks ago.

The Jazz come into tonight’s game with a very healthy roster, as Alec Burks is the only player in their core who should be unavailable for them tonight. The top-3 big men in their front court make up one of the stronger groups in the league between Derrick Favors, Rudy Gobert, and Enes Kanter (Booker has played okay as their 4th big as well). The Jazz’s real weakness comes around the perimeter; while Gordon Hayward is one of the better wings in the league, he has little help around him at the guard positions. In addition to Burks’ injury, Trey Burke has been mediocre at best, and both Dante Exum and Elijah Millsap have been pretty brutal.

For the Pelicans, they will likely utilize a starting lineup of Evans, Gordon, Cunningham, and Asik, but the 5th player is anyone’s guess. If it were up to me, I would start Pondexter to guard Hayward and put Cunningham on Favors. Missing both Anderson and Davis in this game is potentially gigantic, as Favors can now camp out in the paint more to disrupt attacking guards like Gordon and Evans. The Pelicans may have a rough time scoring tonight as a result, but they still have a decent chance to come away with a victory. Here are the best ways for the Pelicans to capitalize on the Jazz’s shortcomings:

Defensive Pressure: According to Basketball-Reference.com, three key Jazz players have turnover rates over 17% this season: Gobert (17.4%), Exum (19.3%), and Millsap (20.2%). For comparison’s sake, the Pelicans’ two centers, Ajinca and Asik, are the only rotation players between above 15% (15.5% and 16.0% respectively). When any of these Utah players have the ball, the Pelicans have to hound them into coughing it up, and then try to push the pace going the other way. Despite the better play by the Jazz in 2015, they still allow the league’s second most points off of turnovers per game (18.4).

Get shooters open 3s: Since January 1st, the Jazz have allowed the third-fewest 3-point attempts in the NBA, but they also allow the third-highest 3-point percentage. Without diving deeper into Utah’s perimeter defense, it’s hard to determine why this is the case, but given the fact that they’re one of six NBA teams to allow under 39 points in the paint per game during that same stretch, the Pelicans will have to take open shots from long range and knock them down. Look for players like Eric Gordon, Luke Babbitt, and Jimmer Fredette to have expanded roles tonight with so many key New Orleans players sidelined.

Ball Movement: Tyreke Evans has a serious challenge on his hands tonight, as Gobert and Favors are solid interior defenders players who will make his life very difficult. If Evans comes out playing the role of attacker and distributor like we have seen lately, the Pelicans should be able to create open looks given how shoddy the rest of their defense has been.

Stay out of foul trouble: The Jazz are close to the bottom of the NBA in fouls drawn per game, and with both Davis and Anderson out, it will be imperative for the Pelicans (especially Ajinca) to avoid unnecessary fouls. If New Orleans can keep their rotation limited to Evans-Gordon-Fredette-Pondexter-Cunningham-Babbitt-Ajinca-Asik tonight, then this is still a very winnable game, even without three of the team’s best players. Otherwise, there could be some serious trouble.

Enjoy the game!

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