It’s rare that games on the final day of the regular season have as much consequence as this one. The Pelicans and the Spurs are sitting in fifth and sixth place in the Western Conference standings, with a tied record of 47-34. The winner of this matchup could still theoretically finish as high as third while the loser could finish as low as eighth.
New Orleans are in good form, having won their past four games by an average of 16.5 points. The latest of these saw them dominate the Clippers, opening up a 22 point lead after three quarters before running out 113-100 winners.
The Spurs have won their last couple, though the latest of these was a relatively straightforward one against the Kings. Sacramento kept the game tight throughout, but San Antonio put their foot down when it was needed, outscoring the Kings 38-19 in the final quarter to win 98-85.
Three keys to the game
The Pelicans’ multi-pronged offense – When Cousins went down, many thought it would have a major impact on New Orleans offensive potency, but they are playing as well as they have all season at that end of the floor. Davis is doing what Davis does, Mirotic has been a great addition, Moore has proven his ability to score efficiently and Holiday is playing like an All-Star.
LaMarcus Aldridge – Though the Spurs score plenty of points through their great ball movement, they also need Aldridge to be putting up points to beat good teams. Without Leonard, he is easily their best offensive player, and if he has an off night against a decent side the Spurs will find it hard to win.
Bench points – New Orleans’ starting offense is excellent, but it drops away significantly after that. Their bench contributes just 27.9 points per night, the fifth least in the league. In contrast, the Spurs rely heavily on their second unit, which scores 41.6 points per night – the fifth most in the league.
Matchup to watch
LaMarcus Aldridge vs Nikola Mirotic – As mentioned, Aldridge is key to the hopes of the Spurs not only in this game but in the upcoming playoffs. The 2018 All-Star averages 23.3 points and 8.5 rebounds for the season, and in his last ten games is up to 27.3 points, 9.4 rebounds, and 1.8 blocks. Mirotic will be given the task of guarding him to allow Davis to rest on the less dangerous Pau Gasol.
The former Bull was reasonable coming off the bench initially after being picked up by New Orleans, but in recent games, he has moved to a starting position and been dominant. In all of his past four games he has scored at least 24 points, and in this time averages 27 points on 55.5% shooting, 4.5 3-pointers on 50% shooting, and 11.3 rebounds. Aldridge won’t be able to rest at the defensive end of the floor, and will instead be forced to chase around the screen-setting, floor-spacing Montenegrin.
New Orleans Pelicans predicted starting lineup
PG – Rajon Rondo | SG – Jrue Holiday | SF – E’Twaun Moore | PF – Nikola Mirotic | C – Anthony Davis
San Antonio Spurs predicted starting lineup
PG – Dejounte Murray | SG – Patty Mills | SF – Danny Green | PF – LaMarcus Aldridge | C – Pau Gasol
Davis has been a force against the Spurs in his three games against them this season. In them, he averages 25.3 points per game on 51% shooting, down on his season average, but also grabs 13.3 rebounds and dishes out 2.3 assists. His career numbers against San Antonio mirror this; in 21 games he averages 20.5 points on 47.9% shooting, down on his career averages, but his 11.1 rebounds are above his usual output, and he also contributes 1.5 steals and 2.1 blocks.
The over/under total is set at 211.5 points for this game, and though the Pelicans have been scoring heavily of late, this game will remain under the total. It will have the intensity of a playoff game with both teams locking in on defense, and when the Spurs do this they are tough to score against. The last game between these sides saw just 191 points scored, and this one may well be similar.
New Orleans streak of scoring well into the 100’s could end in this game, against a Spurs team which will put it’s best defense on show. The Pelicans lightning fast game style will subsequently be slowed down, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see neither side reach the 100 mark in this game.
Ultimately though, the home side will have too much firepower for the Spurs. Their bench may be thin, but the Pelicans can have up to four dangerous scoring options on the floor at any one time, and with Davis leading the charge they’ll be able to earn themselves a 101-96 win and give themselves a chance at a home playoff series.
The game will be broadcast locally on FSNOLA and FSSW. Tip-off is at 8pm ET.
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