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Game Preview: New Orleans Pelicans vs. San Antonio Spurs

Merely a week after their match-up in New Orleans, the Spurs and Pelicans will resume battle in the Alamo City.

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at New Orleans Pelicans Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

The Pelicans are a mess right now every way that matters. After making it to the 2nd round of the playoffs last season, they were expected to be contending for a playoff spot in the Western Conference this year. Instead, they’ve floundered, losing 4 of their last 5 with a lackluster 23-29 record (13th in the West) overall. This season has been so bad that their star player, Anthony Davis, is looking to force his way out of town with a year and a half remaining on his current contract, with the info leaking earlier this week that he would not sign an extension with New Orleans when the time arrived.

The Spurs just saw these guys last Saturday night, a wire-to-wire 126-114 win on the road for San Antonio that was more or less comfortably won. With a tough Rodeo Road Trip looming, the Spurs will hopefully take care of business once again on their home court, where they were a bit shaky in the month of January after such a strong showing in December.

New Orleans Pelicans (23-29) vs. San Antonio Spurs (30-22)

February 2nd, 2019 | 7:30 PM CT

Listen: WOAI | Watch: FSSW

Spurs Injuries: Dejounte Murray (torn ACL — out)

Pelicans Injuries: Anthony Davis (finger — out), Nikola Mirotic (calf — out), Julius Randle (ankle — questionable), Elfrid Payton (ankle — day-to-day), E’Twaun Moore (day-to-day)

Who else is ready for Lonnie-Time?

Lonnie Walker got the first meaningful minutes of his NBA career last Saturday night against this very same Pelicans team. Checking in early in the 2nd quarter, Walker made an immediate impact on a team that was sort of dragging their feet early on with some energy on both the offensive and defensive ends, with 7 points, 5 rebounds, an assist, and a steal on the night. On this possession, he turns defense into offense:

Fighting through the screen set by Jahlil Okafor, Walker falls a bit behind the play, but still manages to get himself back on the hip of E’Twaun Moore. With Aldridge coming to contain the drive and Okafor rolling to the rim with enough room for a fairly easy catch and layup, Walker perfectly anticipates the pass and pulls himself away from Moore’s hip in time to tip the ball and hustle for it in bounds. Noticing Okafor and most of the Pelicans were jogging with their backs turned or not paying attention, Walker put on the boosters, got by Moore, put Okafor on his heels before he realized what was happening, and got to the rim for an easy layup.

While Walker has played only sparingly in the two games since, its obvious that he’s a player. Dante Cunningham and Quincy Pondexter are nice guys and real pros, but I truly think that the Spurs will be better giving those minutes to Lonnie sooner rather than later. Let’s hope that he gets a little bit more time tonight, if only because the Spurs are blowing them out.

Lock-in Defensively

The Spurs ranked 21st (112.0) in Defensive Efficiency through the month of January. For a group that appeared to be trending upward during December, it was frustrating to watch them on that end for most of the month. The execution has been sloppy and the communication simply hasn’t been as good, with guys dipping in to help when they shouldn’t far too often. Look how far away Rudy Gay is from his assignment on this drive from Jrue Holiday early in last Saturday’s game:

Leaving Elfrid Payton open isn’t the worst thing one could do, but it’s something that is happening on far too many other possessions as well. If anyone is going to help White contain the drive by Holiday, it should be Pau because LaMarcus is right there to deflect any pass that Holiday may have attempted to make to Okafor.

PtR’s Jesus Gomez told me earlier in the season that the Spurs just weren’t good enough this year to bring anything less than their A-game to every match-up this season on the defensive end. Closing out on shooters and containing Holiday’s drives should be keys to their defensive game plan tonight.

A note on DeMar DeRozan

After missing a few games with a knee injury, DeMar DeRozan got the OK to return to the lineup Thursday night against the Nets. Playing 35 minutes and scoring 15 (5-16 shooting) points to go along with 10 rebounds and 4 assists, he looked to be a bit more spry than he had been looking. What I noticed the most, though, is the trajectory of his shots. His misses appear to be all over the place, with some falling way short of the basket and others hitting the other side of the rim.

This usually indicates a player not having their legs fully under them. As they try to find some way to compensate, their mechanics get all out of wack and they tend to get in their own head. DeRozan has a very soft shot and this shows especially on his short misses. Let’s hope that he regains the form he displayed prior to January, where he was shooting a very good percentage looked like a sure-fire All Star pick as long as the Spurs were winning games.

Vegas Prediction: Spurs -10

Game Prediction: Spurs by 12

For the Pelicans’ perspective, please visit The Bird Writes.