Game Preview: New Orleans Pelicans begin road trip against Boston Celtics

The New Orleans Pelicans (13-23) take on the Boston Celtics (22-14) to start a five-game road trip and try to get back on track.

We’re going to keep hammering this home: Injuries and schedule luck decide a huge percentage of NBA games from January through March. Tonight, the New Orleans Pelicans are the beneficiaries once again. Like Thursday against the Hawks, the rested Pelicans get to face a team coming off a game the night before, giving them an immediate advantage.

The Boston Celtics played a close game against the Philadelphia 76ers last night, but emerged victorious 110-106. They were missing only Tyler Zeller and James Young, two deep-rotation players who figure not to impact things too much even if they do play today. The Pelicans, however, continue to deactivate healthy players because there are no other options. What a dreamy, enviable position to be in, from the point of view of so many other teams.

However, the schedule advantage built into this one should not lead the Pelicans to underestimate the Celtics, nor should their victory earlier in the year against this team. Since December 16th, Boston has won 11 of 13 games, led by a tremendous run by contract-year guard Isaiah Thomas, who recently broke career records in points and assists in back-to-back games. With Thomas heading their offense, this is a fearsome team.

And most would argue that with Al Horford leading the defense, it should be similarly great. However, they are merely 20th in defensive rating because of injuries to Horford and Jae Crowder early on. They remain an exploitable team.

One area where this particular Pelicans team ought to do a better job of exploiting: in transition. The Pels take only 8.8% of their shots “very early” (within the first seven seconds) in the shot clock, but have made more than half of those attempts so far this year, per NBA.com.

The team is bottom-six in the league in points per transition possession, at 1.03. Their field goal percentage is 49.2, fourth-worst in the league.

This highlights an interesting dichotomy within this Pelicans season: They are seventh in pace, but do not score well at all in transition, which has caused them to plummet to 29th in offensive rating (points scored per 100 possessions). It may be time to stop sprinting at every opportunity, and play a more balanced style.

The Celtics, only 18th in pace, represent a chance to slow things down and drag out a win.

Who, When, Where and How to Watch

When and Where: The game will be played at 6:30 p.m. CT in Boston.

How To Watch: The game will be broadcast on Fox Sports New Orleans and NBA League Pass.

Injuries: 

New Orleans:  Quincy Pondexter (Left Knee) is out.

Boston: James Young (ankle) and Tyler Zeller (illness) are questionable.

Probable Starting Lineups:

New Orleans: PG Jrue Holiday, SG Buddy Hield, SF Solomon Hill, PF Dante Cunningham, C Anthony Davis

Boston: PG Isaiah Thomas, SG Avery Bradley, SF Jae Crowder, PF Amir Johnson, C Al Horford

Other Players to Watch: 

New Orleans: E’Twaun MooreTyreke Evans, Terrence Jones, Langston Galloway, and DONATAS MOTIEJUNAS (!)

Boston: Marcus Smart, Jonas Jerebko, Kelly Olynyk, and Terry Rozier

Debrief Declaration

The Pelicans can capitalize on the Celtics’ exhaustion, but these are games that Brad Stevens has emphasized since coming to the NBA. The Celtics fight harder than most teams at home on the second night of a back-to-back, and they’ve been on a roll recently on offense. I don’t think the Pelicans have the guns to stop them, currently.

Also, I officially declare here that if Motiejunas plays, it will be for less than 12 minutes and have very little impact on the game outside of (maybe) rebounding.

Pelicans 102, Celtics 115

What’s Next for the Pelicans?

The New Orleans Pelicans will continue their roadtrip on Monday against the New York Knicks. Tip-off is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. CT

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