Game Preview: New Orleans Pelicans home for Holiday’s debut against Portland Trailblazers

Oct 28, 2015; Portland, OR, USA; Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard (0) drives past New Orleans Pelicans guard Jrue Holiday (11) during the first quarter at the Moda Center. Mandatory Credit: Craig Mitchelldyer-USA TODAY Sports

The New Orleans Pelicans look to Jrue Holiday as their last hope, as the season continues to unspool one game at a time. Tonight’s opponent is the Portland Trailblazers.

Today’s the day. If we don’t get excited about this, what can we be excited about? Jrue Holiday will be back in the New Orleans Pelicans lineup for the first time since March 28 against the New York Knicks, after which he was shut down for the season due to an orbital fracture.

All eyes will be on Holiday and how he can lift this Pelicans team from a dreadful start. Next to him, early-season start Anthony Davis looks to return to form after missing Wednesday’s game in Orlando due to a right quad contusion. It was Davis’s first missed game of the season, and ensures that this will not be the year that he finally makes it to game 82 unscathed. Health, ye coveted beauty.

Around the two stars, the rotation will surely change as the need for ball-handlers lessens. Langston Galloway and Alexis Ajinca seemed likely candidates as recently as two games ago, but both players have worked their way into the good graces of coach Alvin Gentry lately. Galloway has averaged 16 points per game over his last three, and Ajinca played crunch time against a dominant Magic front line.

What gives? If Gentry trusts his guards to succeed in three guard lineups for large chunks of the game, he could toss Dante Cunningham out. The forward has been dreadful defensively over the last two weeks, taking away whatever he adds with his versatility by letting guys scoot past him in the half court and being generally bullied.

Such a change would surely jump-start the offense, providing room for Holiday and the other two guards on the floor. If Davis returns healthy and Terrence Jones keeps his level of play high, the Pelicans could have something to work with on offense.

That’s the real test here tonight and for the immediate future: Can Jrue Holiday truly make an offensive impact on a team that has struggled mightily over there all year? He will enter a rotation full of disappointing players, from Solomon Hill to Omer Asik. Holiday was fantastic last year, but can that continue?

Mar 18, 2016; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Pelicans forward Anthony Davis (23) shoots over Portland Trail Blazers forward Al-Farouq Aminu (8) and forward Noah Vonleh (21) during the first quarter of a game at the Smoothie King Center. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Who, When, Where and How to Watch

When and Where: The game will be played at 7:00 PM CST at the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans.

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

Injuries: 

New OrleansQuincy Pondexter (Left Knee) and Tyreke Evans (Right Knee) are OUT. Anthony Davis (Quad) is QUESTIONABLE.

Portland: Al-Farouq Aminu (Calf) and Festus Ezeli (Knee) are OUT.

Probable Starting Lineups:

New Orleans: PG Jrue Holiday, SG E’Twaun Moore, SF Dante Cunningham, PF Anthony Davis, C Omer Asik

Portland: PG Damian Lillard, SG C.J. McCollum, SF Allen Crabbe, PF Maurice Harkless, C Mason Plumlee

Other Players to Watch: 

New OrleansBuddy HieldTerrence Jones, Dante Cunningham, Langston GallowayAlexis Ajinca, and Tim Frazier

Portland: Evan Turner, Noah Vonleh, Ed Davis, Jake Layman, and Meyers Leonard

What’s Next for the Pelicans?

The Pelicans stay at home for the second half of a home back-to-back against the streaking Kemba Walker and his Charlotte Hornets. Tip tomorrow is at 6:00 PM CST.

Mar 20, 2016; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Pelicans guard Jrue Holiday (11) knocks the ball from Los Angeles Clippers guard Chris Paul (3) during the second quarter of a game at the Smoothie King Center. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Can Jrue Holiday help the defense at all?

Among players to appear in all twelve Pelicans games this season, only Buddy Hield has a worse Defensive Box Plus-Minus, per Basketball-Reference. Frazier’s -1.5 rating means he is quite a bit worse than average in a statistic that seeks to accumulate box score stats like steals and blocks as well how well a team does with and without a given player.

That has been evident in watching Frazier struggle against players like Stephen Curry, Isaiah Thomas, and Eric Bledsoe. The Pelicans play in the Western Conference. There is no avoiding that. Whoever plays point guard for the Pelicans will have a nightly handful of a job on defense. That being said, Holiday must be an improvement over Frazier, and Frazier himself must be better against second units than he has against opposing starters.

I looked over the offseason at Jrue Holiday and how he has gradually reversed course from a defense-first game manager to an exhilarating offensive focal point. The Pelicans front office did not do enough to alleviate the offensive pressures on Holiday this summer, so that trend will likely continue. However, there are still reasons to believe opponents will act differently against Holiday than they did against Frazier.

Just as with shooters on offense, there is a certain amount of respect that must be earned as an NBA defender. Simply by replacing Tim Frazier on the court, Holiday will likely help the Pelicans on defense. He is a bigger guard, a more menacing and irritating on-ball defender, and an experienced team defender. He’ll make less mistakes. He’ll put a body or hand where it needs to be more often.

Obviously, it remains to be seen how much Holiday will help the team in the short term. There is rust to be wiped away, and chemistry to be built. But this team was built to feature Holiday with the starters and Frazier wreaking havoc with the bench unit.

Things are returning to their natural order, and the Pelicans have a chance to take advantage against a Blazers team that is without their best defender.

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