Devonte' Graham celebrates after hitting a go-ahead three-pointer at Utah

Behind the Numbers: Pelicans at Jazz (11/27/21)

by Jim Eichenhofer
@Jim_Eichenhofer

A look at three key numbers related to Saturday’s game at Vivint Arena between New Orleans and Utah (8 p.m. Central, Bally Sports New Orleans, 100.3 FM):

1: New Orleans clutch win this season, which occurred Friday on the strength of Devonte’ Graham’s long-distance bomb at Utah, giving the Pelicans a one-point lead with 1.3 seconds left. New Orleans improved to 1-8 in clutch games (defined by NBA.com as games that are within five points or less during the final five minutes of the fourth quarter). The Pelicans and Rockets are the only NBA clubs with just one victory in that statistic, but New Orleans would welcome more game-altering shot-making, in the midst of a schedule stretch featuring six straight opponents with winning records (including Utah and Dallas twice each). Perhaps a bit surprisingly, rookie forward Herbert Jones actually leads New Orleans with 11 clutch points this season, followed by Jonas Valanciunas with eight. Graham’s timely trey Friday gave him six clutch points in 26 minutes. Graham has been part of all of New Orleans’ clutch minutes in 2021-22 (the 26 minutes is 17th-most in the NBA; the Lakers lead the league with 75).

3: Pelicans rank in bench points per game (46.7) so far in Week 6, a three-game span that coincides with Willy Hernangomez taking over at backup center and Nickeil Alexander-Walker shifting from starter to reserve. Willie Green’s decision to make a couple significant lineup changes has paid major dividends, with New Orleans getting improved performance from both its first and second units. Prior to this week, the Pelicans ranked just 28th in bench scoring (25.1), one factor behind the team’s 3-15 start. The only benches producing more offense in Week 6 have been Sacramento (57.7 points per game) and Houston (57.0).

12: New Orleans rank among the 30 NBA teams in net rating since Nov. 19 at plus-1.6, an admittedly small sample of five games, but one that includes impressive victories over the Clippers, Washington and Utah. Over the past handful of contests, the Pelicans have the league’s second-best defensive efficiency (100.2 points allowed per 100 possessions), trailing only red-hot Milwaukee. New Orleans has still struggled on offense recently, ranking No. 26 in efficiency (101.8) over the past week-plus, but hasn’t needed to be great at that end of the floor to pick up wins. A positive sign on offense has been an assist percentage of 62.5 that ranks sixth in the NBA over the same timeframe.

PREVIOUS GAME STARTING LINEUPS

NEW ORLEANS (5-16)

Friday win at Utah

Devonte’ Graham, Josh Hart, Brandon Ingram, Herbert Jones, Jonas Valanciunas

Notes: This group is 2-0, previously launching a home rout over Washington by building a first-quarter lead. Not surprisingly, Green said during Friday’s postgame press conference that the plan is to stick with this combination. As a five-man lineup, it has now played the third-most minutes (57:37) of any New Orleans grouping. … A lineup with the same players, but with Alexander-Walker instead of Hart at shooting guard, has logged a team-high 79:45.

UTAH (12-7)

Friday loss vs. New Orleans

Mike Conley, Donovan Mitchell, Royce O’Neale, Bojan Bogdanovic, Rudy Gobert

Notes: This familiar Jazz group is 11-5. Conley has not been playing in back-to-backs this season, raising the possibility that the point guard won’t play Saturday. In two games he sat out, he was replaced by Joe Ingles in the starting lineup (losses at Chicago and at Orlando). … Utah’s primary starting five has logged 251:17 of playing time together, more than three times as many minutes as NOLA’s most common lineup.

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From a mentality standpoint, it would be easy for New Orleans to subconsciously let down a bit Saturday, after already guaranteeing a split of the two-game series. Since the start of 2020-21, only one opponent (Minnesota) has beaten Utah twice on its home floor in the same season. The Pelicans need to stay hungry to try to become the second team to do so.

KEEP JAZZ OFF BEAT

Utah’s high-powered offense (ranked No. 1 in the NBA) looked uncharacteristically out of sync Friday, with New Orleans limiting the Jazz to just 17 assists, compared to 18 turnovers. The Pelicans need a repeat of that – or something similar – to have a chance to pull off a series sweep in the Beehive State.

MATCHUP TO WATCH

Quality West centers Valanciunas (11 points, 10 rebounds) and Gobert (nine points, 10 rebounds) played to a statistical draw Friday. Can one of the bigs outplay the other in the rematch Saturday? They’ve gotten very familiar with each other, having also squared off in the first round of the 2021 playoffs, when Valanciunas played for Memphis.

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