Game Preview: New Orleans Pelicans look to keep momentum against Atlanta Hawks

Oct 18, 2016; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Hawks guard Dennis Schroder (17) makes a move against New Orleans Pelicans guard Tim Frazier (2) in the first quarter of their game at Philips Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

With a chance to keep a strong streak going, the New Orleans Pelicans travel a few states West to take on a strong, rebooted Atlanta Hawks squad.

The New Orleans Pelicans have momentum heading into a nice week. Wait, what? Momentum. Yes, you heard me.

By fluidly integrating point guard Jrue Holiday into a rotation that was failing without him, winning three games, and starting to establish role players, the Pelicans built that momentum organically. No benching, no public statements, no trade demands. Early-season struggles, reversed (at least for a week) by the work of the players and decision-makers themselves.

Now, a tough test against the Eastern Conference’s second-best team to test that momentum. The Atlanta Hawks about-faced their way into a new sort of team this offseason, one featuring Dwight Howard and Dennis Schroeder in the starting lineup in place of longtime centerpieces Al Horford and Jeff Teague.

That hasn’t mattered thus far, as the Hawks have roared to a 9-4 start behind continued excellence by Paul Millsap and a nice transition by Howard and Schroeder. For a long time, the problems the Hawks faced were due to a lack of interior depth and bulk. With Howard around, and Mike Muscala continuing to develop, those worries have quieted. The Pelicans will be tested tonight.

One thing the team has been able to consistently expect is that Anthony Davis will have an advantage over every player he matches up with throughout the game and over the course of the season. That will not be quite so true tonight, playing against Millsap and Howard throughout what will likely be a physical game.

Both teams are coming off of a day of rest, and though the Pelicans did get an extra second day on Sunday to recover from two victories over the weekend, the athletic and mobile bigs the Hawks play will pose a challenge to Davis and the rest of the team.

Look for Holiday to continue as the focal point while he’s on the court. He is the kind of secondary matchup-buster the Pelicans have lacked all year, and the Hawks aren’t quite so versatile in the backcourt. Schroeder, Kyle Korver, and Tim Hardaway Jr. are exploitable for Holiday and his fellow guards.

Should be a fun night.

Feb 2, 2015; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Pelicans forward Anthony Davis (23) drives past Atlanta Hawks forward Paul Millsap (4) 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 6:30 PM CST in New Orleans.

How To Watch: The game will be broadcast on NBA TV.

Injuries: 

New OrleansQuincy Pondexter (Left Knee) and Tyreke Evans (Right Knee) are OUT.

Atlanta: Thabo Sefolosha (knee) and Tim Hardaway Jr. (head) are PROBABLE.

Probable Starting Lineups:

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

Atlanta: PG Dennis Schroeder, SG Kyle Korver, SF Kent Bazemore, PF Paul Millsap, C Dwight Howard

Other Players to Watch: 

New Orleans: Jrue Holiday, Buddy HieldTerrence Jones, Solomon Hill and Langston Galloway

Atlanta: Mike Muscala, Taurean Prince, Malcolm Delaney, Tim Hardaway Jr.

What’s Next for the Pelicans?

The Pelicans will continue their first back-to-back of the week at home against the Minnesota Timberwolves. The game is a nationally televised matchup on ESPN between a young rival of the Pelicans’. Tip is scheduled for 6:30 CST as well.

Nov 19, 2016; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry talks to his players in overtime against the Charlotte Hornets at the Smoothie King Center. The Pelicans won in overtime, 121-116. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

How do we measure chemistry in the early season?

The Phoenix Suns count high-fives. The Los Angeles Clippers seem to bond around giving referees grief. The Toronto Raptors Are The North, apparently. What brings the New Orleans Pelicans together? I would argue it’s the relationship between Jrue Holiday and Anthony Davis, on the court and off it.

Holiday has done all he needs to demonstrate his character and thoughtfulness throughout his time away from the team and in speaking with the media since. Davis too has played the part of a vocal leader and considerate figurehead this year. On the court, their teamwork keyed a big win over the Charlotte Hornets on Saturday night.

Everything the Pelicans do funnels outward from the coexistence of these two. It’s not a coincidence that the team scored two big victories in Holiday’s first two games back.

It’s common to say chemistry is intangible and immeasurable, which is why teams like the Suns try seemingly wacky things like counting high fives. For the Pelicans, the number to show the value of comfort with teammates is two. Two games played with the expected armada, and two wins.

Additionally, the ability to go small with a backcourt of Holiday, Tim Frazier, and the fiery-hot Langston Galloway is an easy way to objectively value Holiday’s presence. Without Holiday, the Pelicans struggled to maximize their versatility. With him, it almost looked easy.

So it’s interesting that this first test come against a team like the Atlanta Hawks, who have been the league’s best model of chemistry since bringing Mike Budenholzer in as head coach a few seasons ago. Even with a mixup like the one they underwent this July, Budenholzer has kept the ship steady and the win count high.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

The Pelicans have to be hoping that’s true after watching what Holiday and Davis have been capable of together over the past three seasons and seeing the hole they’ve dug for themselves without Holiday during the early part of this one.

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