Willy Hernangomez takes a layup at Houston

Behind the Numbers: Pelicans at Rockets (12/5/21)

A look at three key numbers related to Sunday’s game at Toyota Center between New Orleans and Houston (6 p.m. Central, Bally Sports New Orleans, 100.3 FM):

3: New Orleans road wins this season against teams that are currently .500 or better overall record-wise (Utah, Clippers, Dallas), all taking place since Nov. 26. NBA.com’s John Schuhmann noted at the start of Week 7 that the Pelicans have faced the league’s most difficult schedule so far, a fact illustrated by New Orleans having played 10 away games against opponents that are at least .500 overall, out of 14 total road contests. By comparison, the Lakers – who’ve benefited from one of the NBA’s friendliest early slates – have only played two road games against winning teams, going 0-2 (Milwaukee, Boston). To use another comparison, first-place Western Conference team Golden State has four road victories against .500-plus foes (the Warriors won at Brooklyn, Cleveland and both Los Angeles franchises). On paper, the good news for New Orleans is that it only has one more December road tilt against a team with a winning record, a stretch that begins with Sunday’s visit to Houston (6-16). The rest of the itinerary for the Pelicans includes Dec. 12 at San Antonio (8-13, but winners of four straight), two trips to Oklahoma City (6-16), Dec. 19 at Philadelphia (12-11) and Dec. 23 at Orlando (5-19).

2: New Orleans bench ranking out of 30 teams in points per game (46.1) since Nov. 22, a date which not coincidentally marked the addition of backup center Willy Hernangomez to the rotation. It’s been a staggering turnaround for Pelicans reserves lately, a group that ranked 28th through Nov. 21 in bench scoring, putting up 25.1 points per game. Since being elevated to the second unit seven games ago, Hernangomez has averaged 11.4 points and 8.4 rebounds, despite never logging more than 22:49 of playing time during any of those contests. The only NBA second unit generating more offense since Nov. 22 is Sacramento at 46.7 points per game. Meanwhile, Houston ranks fifth in bench scoring (42.2) during the same recent timeframe. For the season overall, the Rockets are sixth in the statistic (38.9).

6: Rank among the 30 NBA teams in offensive efficiency for Houston (116.1 points per 100 possessions, via NBA.com) since Nov. 24, the night the Rockets launched their active five-game winning streak by upsetting Chicago. Prior to Thanksgiving Eve, the Rockets were the league’s worst offensive team (97.3 rating) by a relatively significant margin, with Oklahoma City placing 29th at 99.5. Recent lineup and rotation changes have produced much better results, with Houston ranking sixth over its five-game win streak in three-point percentage (40.5) and third in three-point makes (17.4). The Rockets are the NBA’s fourth-highest scoring team since Nov. 24, averaging 119.6 points, behind only Charlotte, the Lakers and Utah.

PREVIOUS GAME STARTING LINEUPS

NEW ORLEANS (7-18)

Friday win at Dallas

Devonte’ Graham, Garrett Temple, Brandon Ingram, Herbert Jones, Jonas Valanciunas

Notes: This group is 1-1 after splitting consecutive games against the Mavericks. … New Orleans previously went 3-1 with the same starting five, but with Josh Hart instead of Temple at one of the guard spots. Hart is questionable to play Sunday due to left knee soreness. … The Pelicans have not used any starting lineup more than five times this season. … New Orleans is 4.5 games behind No. 10 Portland (11-13) in the West.

HOUSTON (6-16)

Friday win vs. Orlando

Kevin Porter Jr., Eric Gordon, Garrison Mathews, Jae’Sean Tate, Christian Wood

Notes: This group is 4-0, reeling off four straight wins over Charlotte, Oklahoma City (twice) and Orlando. … Porter (bruised thigh) is out for Sunday's game. ... Houston’s most common first unit this season is 1-11, featuring Jalen Green and Daniel Theis at guard and center, respectively, with Gordon and Mathews coming off the bench. … Mathews is on a two-way contract but is making a big impact lately, scoring 12-plus points in five straight games. He’s canned three-plus treys in each of his four starts. ... In addition to Porter being sidelined Sunday, Green, John Wall and Usman Garuba are listed as out by Houston.

FANDUEL KEYS TO THE GAME

KEEP SHARING THE BALL

Unselfish play and ball movement have been hallmarks of several New Orleans road wins lately, including dishing out 30 assists in a 16-point victory at Dallas on Friday. Ingram set a career high with 12 assists, one of nine different Pelicans with at least one helper.

STAR IN YOUR ROLE

One of Willie Green’s favorite sayings, several Pelicans “starred in their role” on Friday against the Mavs. Off the bench, Trey Murphy III shot 3/3 on threes; Hernangomez went for 12 points and 14 boards in just 23 minutes; Nickeil Alexander-Walker added nine points. Filling in for Hart as a starter, Temple supplied aggressive defense (two blocks, one steal) and nine rebounds.

MATCHUP TO WATCH

At center, Valanciunas vs. Wood could go a long way in determining whether New Orleans continues its recent upswing, particularly on the road, or if Houston extends its improbable winning streak to six. Valanciunas had a quiet Dallas series (averages of 10.0 points, 8.0 rebounds) by his elevated standards, while Wood has three games of 20-plus points during the Rockets’ win streak, topped by 33 points vs. Charlotte.

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