The highlights are great. But so is the stuff between the highlights. Here are some things you may have missed from the last two weeks of games ...
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PELS SLIP IN TRANSITION
It remains difficult to figure out the New Orleans Pelicans, who haven't won consecutive games in more than a month and now sit in 13th place in the Western Conference. Their offense remains potent (they rank fourth in offensive efficiency), but their ability to get stops has been an issue.
Here's the thing: The Pelicans actually have the same point differential as they had last season (plus-1.3 points per game), when they went 48-34, finishing in a three-way tie for the 4-6 seeds in the Western Conference. But the Pels are a league-worst 5-10 in games that were within five points in the last five minutes after going 30-20 in those games a year ago. Only the Cleveland Cavaliers have seen a bigger drop in winning percentage (a drop that's much easier to explain) in games that were within five in the last five.
The second stop of a four-game trip has the Pelicans in Los Angeles to play the Lakers on Friday (10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN). It's the first of five straight games against teams ahead of them in the West standings, a critical stretch for a team that has a real sense of urgency in regard to making the playoffs.
The Pelicans' offense is built around Anthony Davis, but his teammates don't just stand around and watch him go to work. The Pels rank in the top 10 in both player movement (11.7 miles traveled per 24 minutes of possession) and ball movement (377 passes per 24 minutes of possession). They may be undersized on the perimeter, but their guards are constantly in motion.
And that's just not in the half-court offense. One thing you'll see the Pels do in transition is set up a "pistol" action (screen along the sideline), catch their opponent anticipating the screen, and slipping to the basket for a layup.
It's a favorite move of E'Twaun Moore, who catches the Wizards and Mavs in the first two plays below. Moore missed last Wednesday's game against the Thunder, but Jrue Holiday pulled off the transition slip ...
What can go overlooked with these plays is how tough of a pass it is to make. Credit both Holiday and Tim Frazier for finding the right angle.
THE PATIENCE OF DEROZAN
DeMar DeRozan is the king of the mid-range. He leads the league with 183 buckets between the restricted area and the 3-point line. In his last season in Toronto, he saw a big increase in the percentage of his shots that came from 3-point range, but that number has dropped from 20 percent last season to just six percent this season with the Spurs. That's the third biggest drop in 3PA/FGA among 210 players with at least 300 field goal attempts last season and at least 100 field goal attempts this season.
DeRozan wants to get to his spots, and he's willing to wait to do so. A couple of weeks ago, Tyson Chandler hedged out high on DeRozan-Jakob Poeltl pick-and-rolls on consecutive possessions, keeping DeRozan contained out beyond the arc. And on both possessions, DeRozan just waited Chandler out.
On the first, Poeltl sets a second screen going in the other direction, allowing DeRozan to get to his spot before Chandler can recover. On the second, Poeltl slips the initial screen and DeRozan waits for Chandler to retreat before attacking Kyle Kuzma one-on-one.
REWARD THE BIG MEN
The Phoenix Suns have won four straight games!
Improvement has mostly come on defense, and better defense can lead to more opportunities in transition. The Suns have a pair of big men - DeAndre Ayton and Richaun Holmes - who can run the floor. And in their win in New York on Monday, we saw them rewarded for doing so.
On both of the plays below, it's not the initial ball-handler who gets it to the running big. Both times, a better passing angle is acquired with an initial pass from the middle of the floor to the side.
CUTTING OFF THE PASSING ANGLE
Here's an interesting back-to-back possession sequence from the Thunder-Nuggets game last Friday. Both plays begin with a Jamal Murray-Nikola Jokic pick-and-roll at the top of the key, with Murray going to his left.
On the first, Steven Adams hedges, but gives Murray a little space, which allows him to make a pass to a rolling Jokic at the foul line. That puts the Thunder in rotation (Russell Westbrook helps from the weak side), and Jokic finds a wide-open Torrey Craig in the weak-side corner.
On the next possession, Adams hedges a little more aggressively, pushing Murray out, cutting off the passing angle that was there previously, and forcing Jokic to pop back out to the 3-point line to give Murray an outlet. That allows Adams to recover back to his man and the other Thunder defenders to stay at home. Of course, Adams then gives Jokic a little too much space and he drains a three from the top.
Here's a simple, but effective three-man action off a baseline out-of-bounds play, run by the Clippers on Monday.
Patrick Beverley inbounds out high to Montrezl Harrell, gets a pin-down screen from Tobias Harris, and runs into a dribble hand-off from Harrell, with Damian Lillard trailing. If Beverley was a shooter, he'd have a wide-open look.
He's not, so he waits for Harrell to set a pin-down screen for Harris. That puts Al-Farouq Aminu behind the play and gives Harris the same open look that Beverley had two seconds earlier.