7:30 PM EST, TNT – Line: Pelicans -4.5, Over/Under: 220.5
A pair of western Playoff hopefuls clash tonight as the new-look Houston Rockets travel to the Big Easy to battle the New Orleans Pelicans from Smoothie King Center in New Orleans, Louisiana. With just over twenty games of the 2020-2021 season in the books it’s certainly been an eventful campaign thus far for the Rockets (11-12, 10th in Western Conference), who have completely remade themselves in only a few weeks time. It all started following their ousting in the Western Conference Semifinals at the hands of the eventual NBA Champions, Los Angeles Lakers, last September, which lead to the departures of both (Head Coach) Mike D’Antoni and (General Manager) Daryl Morey. Not long afterward, the other shoe would drop as both of their former MVPs, Russell Westbrook and James Harden, demanded to be traded; Westbrook, who was acquired just a season prior in a high-profile trade with the Oklahoma City Thunder, would eventually be dealt to the nation’s capitol in exchange for (All-Star Point Guard) John Wall (18.8 PTS, 44.4% FG, 37.0% 3FG, 3.7 REB, 6.0 AST, 0.9 STL, 0.8 BLK, 17.9 PER). Harden on the other hand, doubled down on his request, and after skipping out on all offseason activities and ignoring the advances made by the new Coaching Staff headed by Stephen Silas, showed up in the preseason visibly out of shape, and eventually after publicly criticizing his teammates was finally traded to the Brooklyn Nets in a massive four-team blockbuster; Houston would receive four First Round Picks along with a quartet of Pick Swaps with the Nets, while also adding former All-Star Guard and Most Improved Player, Victor Oladipo (19.6 PTS, 38.7% FG, 29.7% 3FG, 4.9 REB, 5.2 AST, 1.1 STL, 0.6 BLK, 13.8 PER). After initially struggling to find their footing after the Harden trade, Silas’ charges would eventually round into shape, winning six consecutive games at one point, averaging 118.2 points per game on 45.8% shooting from the field, including a torrid 39.6% from beyond the arc, and dishing out 24.8 assists in comparison to committing just 13.2 turnovers during the particular stretch. Silas, who had spent the previous two years as a lead assistant on Rick Carlisle’s Coaching Staff, certainly deserved some credit for the Dallas Mavericks’ historically efficient Offense last season, and has clearly brought his strategic nous south to Houston, though ironically it’s been their efforts on the defensive end that have propelled them to success of late. The Rockets have allowed just 109.3 points per game (7th Overall) on 44.7% shooting from the floor (5th Overall), including 50.1% from within the arc (5th Overall) and 35.4% beyond it (6th Overall), while recording 6.0 blocks (3rd Overall), permitting 22.3 assists (2nd Overall), and forcing 15.5 turnovers (6th Overall). A healthy Wall and Oladipo make for a long, athletic, and tenacious tandem in the Backcourt, while (veteran Center) Demarcus Cousins (8.9 PTS, 35.8% FG, 33.30% 3FG, 7.4 REB, 2.5 AST, 0.9 STL, 0.8 BLK, 14.5 PER) has brought some much-needed size and physicality to the Frontcourt alongside the unheralded Christian Wood (22.0 PTS, 55.8% FG, 42.1% 3FG, 10.2 REB, 1.3 AST, 0.9 STL, 1.5 BLK, 24.2 PER), whom the franchise signed to a three-year/$41 million contract in Free Agency. The 25-year old big man has enjoyed a career campaign in his inaugural season with the Rockets, posting career-highs in a slew of categories including points (22.0), three-point percentage (42.1%), rebounds (10.2), assists (1.3), steals (0.9), and blocks (1.5). With Harden now off to Brooklyn, the unheralded Wood has become the focal point of the attack, and it’s no surprise that they’ve struggled since suffering a sprained right ankle in Houston’s victory at the Memphis Grizzlies, 115-103, last Thursday, which will keep him out of action indefinitely.
“It impacted us a lot. Those guys are good defenders. We’re one of the best defensive teams when they’re on the floor. They weren’t on the floor tonight and I didn’t like our defensive approach, so we’re going to need them tomorrow night.”Stephen Silas, on the Rockets playing without both John Wall and Eric Gordon, who were both given off Monday’s 119-94 loss to the Hornets for rest
When we last saw the Rockets, they would unfortunately drop their third game out of four, with their most recent in rather embarrassing fashion as they completely ran out of gas in a 119-94 loss at the Charlotte Hornets. Already without the aforementioned Wood, both Wall and (sharpshooting Guard) Eric Gordon (18.4 PTS, 46.6% FG, 36.3% 3FG, 2.4 REB, 2.3 AST, 0.6 STL, 0.5 BLK, 5.7 PER) were given the night off to rest, meaning that Silas was hitting the road without his three top scorers. Needless to say, winning on the road is always difficult in the NBA, even without fans, and attempting to do so without a triumvirate accounting for over fifty-nine points per game was always going to be an arduous task. With that said, the visitors kept the affair relatively close throughout the first three periods of action, trailing 90-87 heading into the final stanza where the game would ultimately be decided. It was there that the Rockets were relegated to a season-low for any quarter, mustering a scant SEVEN points on a miserable 2-of-19 shooting from the field (10.5%), including 2-of-12 from from beyond the arc (16.7%). That’s right, folks, they failed to register a single field goal within the three-point line and logged more turnovers (5) than field goals and assists COMBINED (3). Conversely, the Hornets shot 13-of-22 overall (59.1%) in the period, outscoring them 29-7 in the process. On the whole, Oladipo totaled a team-high twenty-one points on just 7-of-18 shooting from the floor (38.9%) and 3-of-10 from downtown (30.0%), with seven rebounds and six assists, while Danuel House (8.7 PTS, 39.6% FG, 33.9% 3FG, 3.6 REB, 2.1 AST, 0.7 STL, 9.3 PER) and Jae’Sean Tate (8.7 PTS, 53.0% FG, 31.8% 3FG, 4.9 REB, 1.6 AST, 0.8 STL, 0.7 BLK, 12.2 PER) totaled thirteen apiece in a rare start for the duo. It was a bit surprising that Cousins wasn’t a bit more prevalent from an offensive perspective, totaling just nine points on 4-of-8 shooting (50.0%), though he did offer nine rebounds and three steals, while Ben McLemore (7.1 PTS, 40.7% FG, 41.9% 3FG, 2.3 REB, 1.1 AST, 9.5 PER) netted fifteen points on 5-of-8 shooting (62.5%), including 4-of-7 from three (57.1%) off the bench. Unfortunately, (veteran Guard) PJ Tucker (4.7 PTS, 38.9% FG, 33.3% 3FG, 4.6 REB, 1.4 AST, 0.9 STL, 0.6 BLK, 5.7 PER), who is very much on the trade block, didn’t offer much for the shorthanded side, failing to score on the night and racking up three personal fouls within the first eight minutes of the game.
Meanwhile, after getting off to a slow start to the campaign the Pelicans (10-12, 12th in Western Conference) appear to be finally showing signs of life, winning five of their last seven games, including three straight, as they try to climb out of the cellar in the Western Conference. Of course, it’s been a fairly eventful year or so for New Orleans for a variety of reasons, but we’re more than happy to run down the timeline for you. On May 14th, 2019 they won the Draft Lottery following a dismal 33-49 finish to the 2018-2019 campaign, securing the No. One Pick in that Draft, which they had already pledged to use on Zion Williamson (23.7 PTS, 59.6% FG, 36.4% 3FG, 7.2 REB, 2.7 AST, 1.0 STL, 0.8 BLK, 24.6 PER). On June 6th, they traded (All-NBA Forward) Anthony Davis for (Guards) Lonzo Ball (13.4 PTS, 42.2% FG, 36.7% 3FG, 4.3 REB, 4.6 AST, 1.4 STL, 0.6 BLK, 13.6 PER) and Josh Hart (8.0 PTS, 44.4% FG, 35.4% 3FG, 7.4 REB, 1.9 AST, 0.8 STL, 12.3 PER) along with (Forward) Brandon Ingram (23.9 PTS, 46.9% FG, 39.7% 3FG, 5.5 REB, 4.7 AST, 0.6 STL, 1.1 BLK, 20.8 PER) and a cache of Draft Picks, completely remaking their roster in the process. Unfortunately, Willamson would undergo knee surgery shortly before his rookie campaign was to begin, delaying his debut by three months, with the young star missing the first forty-three games of the season. Of course, the COVID-19 pandemic forced the Association to shut down altogether not long after he finally made his long-awaited debut, with the team eventually invited to participate in the seeding games within the Bubble. The Pelicans would struggle in Orlando, losing all but two of their eight contests, eliminated from any possibility of competing in the West’s Play-In Game. Two days following their elimination, (Head Coach) Alvin Gentry was fired after five years in the Big Easy, eventually replaced on October 21st by Stan Van Gundy. Lastly, on November 23rd (longtime Point Guard) Jrue Holiday was packaged away as part of a mammoth four-team trade that saw (veteran Point Guard) Eric Bledsoe (13.7 PTS, 44.4% FG, 40.7% 3FG, 3.7 REB, 3.7 AST, 0.7 STL, 12.9 PER) and (Center) Steven Adams (8.6 PTS, 59.5% FG, 9.7 REB, 2.4 AST, 0.9 STL, 0.6 BLK, 15.4 PER) arrive in return. So how have these new-look Pelicans faired, you ask? Well, a 5-10 start suggests that this young roster has struggled to take to Van Gundy, with that abridged offseason and truncated preparation time doing the venerable tactician no favors either, but of late there appears to be room for optimism for New Orleans looks like they may finally be reaching their potential. Over the last seven games they have improved greatly, particularly on the offensive end of the floor, averaging 118.7 points per game on an efficient 48.3% shooting from the field, including a torrid 39.9% from beyond the arc, with a healthy 26.9 assists in comparison to committing just 11.4 turnovers. Major improvement from downtown has been the driving force for this progression, knocking down at least twelve three-pointers in all but one of those games, which is something that they had only achieved on four occasions in the fifteen games that preceded this run. That spacing afforded to him by the uptick in shooting has been a boon to Williamson, who is a load for opposing teams to deal with in the paint under normal circumstances, and during this stretch has averaged 24.4 points on a ridiculous 63.4% shooting from the field.
“Everybody just got super aggressive. The momentum shifted a little bit. We stayed in and we knocked down shots and we got stops on the defensive end. So it all came down to the fourth quarter where we had to bring a little extra energy off of a back-to-back. We just couldn’t make (being) tired an excuse, and just kept going.”Brandon Ingram on the Pelicans’ Fourth Quarter outburst in Saturday’s 118-109 victory over the Grizzlies
When we last saw the Pelicans, they won their third consecutive outing as they bested the Memphis Grizzlies in a 118-109 affair, climbing closer to the final Playoff spot in the Western Conference. This contest was incredibly tight heading into the Fourth Quarter, with New Orleans trailing by one, though that deficit would balloon to seven with just seven minutes left to play in the game. However, this is where the hosts exploded, outscoring Memphis 23-7 the rest of the way. In the final period, Van Gundy’s charges shot an efficient 11-of-22 from the field, including 5-of-10 from beyond the arc (50.0%), with the aforementioned Bledsoe erupting for eleven of his twenty-one points on 4-of-7 shooting (57.1%). As a team, the Pelicans shot 51.7% from the floor, including 15-of-33 from downtown (45.5%), with a sterling assists/turnover ratio of 27/7. Williamson and Ingram totaled twenty-nine and twenty-seven points respectively on a combined 21-of-34 shooting (61.7%), with the former netting 9-of-11 free-throws (81.8%) and the latter draining 5-of-8 threes (62.5%). Williamson was a proverbial wrecking ball around the rim, even causing the affair to be halted by officials following another thunderous dunk. Ball also played well en route to filling up the stat sheet with sixteen points, seven rebounds, and seven assists, while catching fire from the perimeter on 4-of-6 shooting (66.7%). Now they’ll be looking to maintain their form against Southwest Division neighbor, Houston, whom they trail by just just a single game in the standings. Tonight’s meeting will also be the second in ten days between these teams, with the Pelicans falling 126-112 back on January 30th. Despite leading by eight at home after the end of the First Quarter, the hosts were blown out in the second period 48-22, as the visitors shot a ridiculous 66.7% from the field in comparison to just 32.0% for the home side. Williamson totaled a team-high twenty-six points on 11-of-19 shooting (57.9%) with seven rebounds and four assists, but he and his teammates were badly outgunned from the perimeter where they were outscored by a commanding twenty-four points.