The Pelicans are on a tear. Led by the incredible form of Anthony Davis, they have won ten games in a row to catapult themselves into fourth position in the Western Conference standings with a record of 38-26. Their most recent win was a 114-101 effort against the Kings, in which they had virtually sewn up the game by half-time. Davis was forced to leave the court in the third quarter after landing awkwardly on his ankle, leaving Nikola Mirotic (26 points) and Jrue Holiday (23 points, eight assists) to lead the charge.
On Friday, the Pelicans will host the fourth-placed team from the east, the Washington Wizards. The Wizards, with a record of 37-28, are 1.5 games behind the Cavaliers in third, but just 3.5 games from eighth. Every game is vital, and they were relieved to get over the line in overtime against the Heat on Tuesday. Despite 30 points and seven assists from Bradley Beal, Washington conceded a nine-point half-time lead and were forced to play an extra five minutes of game time.
Three keys to the game
The health of Davis - This is the single most important factor in this game. While Holiday has been excellent and Mirotic has been a welcome addition, without Davis the Pelicans would have dropped out of the playoff race after DeMarcus Cousins’ injury. After hurting his ankle against the Kings, Davis’ x-rays came back negative, but he is still listed as questionable for this game.
The Wizards’ brilliant road form - Washington have been pretty good on the road all season, but recently they have stepped things up even further, winning seven of their last eight games outside of Washington. In these games they have scored 113.7 points per 100 possessions and conceded just 105.8 points, giving them an overall net rating of 8.0, 5.0 points better than their net rating over the course of the season.
The Pelicans’ brilliant overall form - New Orleans, alongside the Rockets, are the only side to have gone undefeated over the past ten games. Not bad company to keep. In this time they are ranked eighth in offense and eighth in defense, neither of which is spectacular. They have won four times in overtime during this stretch, and their ability to get it done down the stretch may be what earns them a playoff spot.
Matchup to watch
Jrue Holiday vs Bradley Beal - These guys are theoretically the second ball-handling options on their team, but both have been doing more than enough facilitating of late. Holiday averages 5.8 assists for the season, but in his past ten games has averaged 8.5 assists (including a huge 17 dimes two games ago against the Clippers) to go with 24.9 points.
Beal averages 4.6 assists for the year, but has been doing a lot more ball-handling in the absence of John Wall. In his past ten games, he is dishing out 6.7 dimes a night, to go with his 21.5 points. Both guys are in terrific form, and have been instrumental in their respective teams’ hunts for the playoffs. They will go head-to-head on Friday, and will have a major influence on the outcome of the game.
New Orleans Pelicans predicted starting lineup
PG - Rajon Rondo | SG - Jrue Holiday | SF - E’Twaun Moore | PF - Anthony Davis | C - Emeka Okafor
Washington Wizards predicted starting lineup
PG - Tomas Satoransky | SG - Bradley Beal | SF - Otto Porter Jr | PF - Markieff Morris | C - Marcin Gortat
Davis averages a career double-double in 11 games against the Wizards. On these nights, he averages 22.8 points on a huge 57.8% shooting, 11.2 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 1.3 steals and 1.1 blocks. When the sides met earlier in the season, he put up 37 points to go with nine rebounds in 37 minutes of action.
In the same game, Beal connected on five 3-pointers on the way to 26 points, five rebounds, four assists, and a couple of steals to lead Washington to victory. He hasn’t typically played well against them though, with his 15.0 points per night in games against the Pelicans the lowest split of his career.
This game is tipped to be close. The Wizards have been made very slight favorites, and have been given a one-point handicap. They won't be able to cover this, as the Pelicans will get the job done at home. Back New Orleans to cover this line.
If Davis doesn’t play, the Wizards' chances in this game will be exponentially higher, but even if he doesn't the Pelicans will still get over the line.
Davis has been the primary reason for New Orleans’ recent success, but he hasn’t been doing it alone. Holiday has been playing like an All-Star for an extended period, and Mirotic has been very impressive coming off the bench for Alvin Gentry.
Satoransky is doing a good job at the point guard position in the absence of Wall, and Beal is proving his playmaking ability, but the Wizards won’t be good enough to get over the surging Pelicans. It will be 11 on the trot for New Orleans, who will win this one 116-109.
The game will be broadcast locally on Fox Sports New Orleans and NBCSWA. Tip-off is at 8pm ET.