The Pelicans endured a tough road game against the Timberwolves on Saturday, going down 107-118 behind 30 points and seven assists to Jimmy Butler. Anthony Davis was once again the dominant player on the floor, putting up 38 points and nine rebounds, while newcomer Nikola Mirotic was impressive in his Pelicans debut with 18 points and 12 rebounds.
The loss left New Orleans with a 28-24 record. They are in seventh place in the Western Conference standings, in a logjam of teams between the Thunder in fifth and the Clippers in ninth who are separated by just 2.5 games.
On Monday they will host a Jazz team coming off five successive victories, the latest of which was an impressive 120-111 win in San Antonio. Ricky Rubio had the best scoring game of his career, putting up 34 points on 11-14 shooting to go with nine assists.
They are working their way towards the aforementioned logjam in the west. Their record of 24-28 is the tenth best in the west, and has them 3.5 games out of a playoff spot.
Three keys to the game
Dominant Davis - Davis is averaging a pretty healthy 27.0 points, 10.6 boards and 2.1 blocks a game this season, but in the past five matches he has taken his game to a new level. In this time, he is putting up 31.2 points, 12 boards, 3.4 assists, 1.4 steals and 2.8 blocks. Unsurprisingly, four of these games have come since the injury to DeMarcus Cousins, which has forced him to take his game to a new level.
The rolling Jazz - The Jazz have been on fire in their past five outings, winning them all, including victories against San Antonio, Golden State, and the Raptors. Their numbers during this time are incredible; their offensive rating has gone from 105.6 to 112.8, while their defensive rating has gone from 104.3 to 96.7. Their net rating of 16.2 during this time is comfortably a league high, almost five points higher than the second placed Rockets.
Pelicans' points in the paint - Unsurprisingly, given their reliance on two big men, the Pelicans love scoring in the paint; they score the second most points in the league in there. Without Cousins this will drop somewhat, but in Davis they still have one of the most prolific paint scorers in the league. Utah allow 42.7 points in the paint per game, tenth in the league, but they have been without one of the best interior defenders in the league in Rudy Gobert for much of the league. Since his return, they have actually conceded more points inside, though this can be a product of good defense elsewhere. Undoubtedly they are a significantly better defensive team with Gobert guarding the paint, and it will be interesting to see who wins this battle.
Matchup to watch
Anthony Davis vs Rudy Gobert - The battle of the best offensive big vs the best defensive big in the league will be a fascinating one to watch. Davis scores 14.6 points in the paint per game, better than everyone in the league barring Giannis Antetokounmpo. It will not be as easy to do so, however, against the almost 7”9’ wingspan of Gobert. Among the 14 centers who have at least six field goals attempted against them in the paint per game this season, Gobert has the second best defended field goal percentage; he allows just 53.2% of these shots to drop. This will be an extremely high quality battle, and one which will have a huge influence on the match.
New Orleans Pelicans predicted starting lineup
PG - Rajon Rondo | SG - Jrue Holiday | SF - E’Twaun Moore | PF - Dante Cunningham | C - Anthony Davis
Utah Jazz predicted starting lineup
PG - Ricky Rubio | SG - Donovan Mitchell | SF - Joe Ingles | PF - Derrick Favors | C - Rudy Gobert
Last time these two sides met, early in January, Davis was a major reason for New Orleans’ victory. He had 29 points, 15 rebounds, four assists and three steals as they ran out 108-98 winners.
In December, Mitchell played perhaps the best game of his young career against the Pelicans. He had 41 points on 13-25 shooting, including 6-12 from downtown, and dished out four assists to lead his side to a six point victory.
This game is tipped to be a close one. New Orleans are slight favorites, having been given a two point handicap, and in a game that should come down to the wire, back the Jazz to cover this line. Their form at the moment is undeniable, and against a Pelicans team still adjusting to life without Cousins, they might just sneak over the line.
It wouldn’t surprise to see this game come down to the final possession. The Pelicans have been the better team throughout the year, but since Boogie went down their reliance on Davis has reached unhealthy levels. Fortunately, he is a superstar, and has been pulling through for them, but against Gobert he might not be able to do enough to get them over the line.
This matchup at center will be the single most important factor in the outcome of the game. If Davis can continue to penetrate and score at will, as he has been in recent games, the Pelicans will be a good chance against a Jazz team which typically struggles on the road. If Gobert can keep him to less than 30 points though, it’s hard to see New Orleans putting up a big enough score to win.
Utah are riding a wave of momentum at the moment, with contributors popping up from all over the floor. Their great form will be enough for them to grab victory by the narrowest of margins, and they’ll leave New Orleans with a 102-101 victory.
The game will be broadcast locally on Fox Sports New Orleans and AT&T Sportsnet - Rocky Mountains. Tip-off is at 8pm ET.