Game Preview: New Orleans Pelicans look for revenge against Los Angeles Lakers

Nov 12, 2016; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Pelicans forward Anthony Davis (23) and Los Angeles Lakers center Timofey Mozgov (20) tip off for the first quarter of a game at the Smoothie King Center. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Revenge in their minds, the New Orleans Pelicans are home to face a hungry young Los Angeles Lakers team for the second time in two weeks.

The New Orleans Pelicans played the Los Angeles Lakers two and a half weeks ago. You may remember that game as one of the lowest points of the Pelicans’ season. Not coincidentally against a Jrue Holiday-less Pelicans squad, the Lakers’ top three guards (D’Angelo Russell, Lou Williams, and Jordan Clarkson) combined for 66 points that night.

This evening, things will have to be different if the Pelicans are to nab a home victory. Fortunately, Russell will miss his fifth consecutive game with a knee injury, meaning Holiday and the Pelicans backcourt will have a far easier time defending the Lakers’ guards minus their starting point guard. However, it’s far from a sure victory with the way Los Angeles has performed across the roster this year.

It’s a testament to the work of new coach Luke Walton that journeymen like Williams and Nick Young have been able to ride plus-40% three-point shooting seasons to rejuvenated years off the bench. Those guys, along with dynamite sixth man Clarkson, will pose a true challenge for questionable smaller defenders like Tim Frazier and Langston Galloway, as well as big men rotating over such as Terrence Jones.

One area in which the Pelicans will have an advantage is definitely the paint: Anthony Davis posed a matchup problem for the Lakers even when Julius Randle was healthy. Without him, backup bigs like Thomas Robinson and Larry Nance Jr. will be over-stretched. If Davis can continue his wondrous ways down low, the Pelicans should be able to ride his dominance to victory.

We’ll leave with this: Do not underestimate the so-called “Baby Lakers”. Armed with depth, intelligence, and tons of shooting, they are the anti-Pelicans. It will take a full effort from every Pelican to win against a more disciplined and defensively-focused team. There is enough evidence now to say that the Pelicans need more than a dominant Davis outing to win basketball games against competitive teams.

Nov 12, 2016; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Pelicans forward Anthony Davis (23) shoots over Los Angeles Lakers forward Larry Nance Jr. (7) during the second half of a game at the Smoothie King Center. The Lakers defeated the Pelicans 126-99. 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 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.  Dante Cunningham (Right Fibula Fracture) is out.

Los Angeles: Julius Randle (Hip) and D’Angelo Russell (Knee) are both OUT.

Probable Starting Lineups:

New Orleans: PG Tim Frazier, SG E’Twaun Moore, SF Solomon Hill, PF Anthony Davis, C Omer Asik

Los Angeles: PG Jose Calderon, SG Nick Young, SF Luol Deng, PF Thomas Robinson, C Timofey Mosgov

Other Players to Watch: 

New Orleans: Jrue Holiday, Buddy Hield, Terrence Jones, Anthony Brown and Langston Galloway

Dallas: Brandon Ingram, Larry Nance Jr., Tarik Black, Lou Williams, Jordan Clarkson

What’s Next for the Pelicans?

The New Orleans Pelicans have a rare three-day break between now and their next contest, which is also at home. Perhaps some practice time is due to build chemistry with Jrue Holiday and integrate Anthony Brown and Cheick Diallo.

Nov 12, 2016; New Orleans, LA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers guard Jordan Clarkson (6) drives past New Orleans Pelicans guard Buddy Hield (24) during the first half of a game at the Smoothie King Center. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Against the deep Lakers, the Pelicans will need defense from everyone

I’ve been shouting on Twitter for what feels like years about the defensive possibilities of a Jrue Holiday-Langston Galloway-E’Twaun Moore backcourt. These lineups have not been given a proper look (only six minutes over six games that Holiday has played in per nbawowy.com), despite Alvin Gentry putting three guards on the court more and more often over the past week.

However, if we look at purely minutes shared by Holiday and Galloway, the sample size (and the positive results) skyrockets. Per Basketball-Reference, in such minutes, the Pelicans are a plus-10.9 points per 100 possessions, which is incredible compared to the minus-3.1 mark they hold over the season as a whole.

Lineups featuring both of Holiday and Tim Frazier, another rotation bedrock, are similarly dynamite. Their plus-12.7 points per 100 possessions mark is the highest of all backcourt combinations featuring Holiday. We can look at that and see the effort of Tim Frazier showing up, the versatility of having two ball-handlers on offense, or just randomness over 75 minutes.

What I see is the importance, and improvement, of Jrue Holiday.

Not only has Holiday’s return been a godsend, it’s been a new type of blessing for the Pelicans. Whereas in years past (and especially last season) Holiday gained notoriety for his ability to improve the Pelicans’ offense, he has done so while also boosting their defense substantially this year.

It’s still not showing up in the advanced stats (a -1.6 Defensive Box Plus-Minus would be the worst of his career), but Holiday’s ability to hold up in the pick-and-roll, switch onto a variety of offensive players, and contest shots near and far has been invaluable in shoring up a unit that struggled just before his return.

This noticeable improvement on the team defense overall is why I believe Alvin Gentry should be experimenting more with putting his best defenders on the court with Jrue Holiday. That can (and should) start tonight, facing a group of Lakers guards that inspires fear from half-court in. Los Angeles will play small, and the Pelicans will have to respond.

The secret to unlocking greater defensive efficiency from Jrue Holiday may be simply to give him the greatest talent to work with, as a part of the starting lineup or off the bench. Right now, he’s being forced to work too hard on both ends. If he can band together with defensively-gifted teammates like Moore and Galloway, success could show up as early as tonight’s game.

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