Brandon Ingram drives against Jaylen Brown

Behind the Numbers presented by Entergy: Celtics at Pelicans (2/21/21)

by Jim Eichenhofer
@Jim_Eichenhofer

A look at three key numbers related to Sunday’s game at the Smoothie King Center between Boston and New Orleans (2:30 p.m. Central, ABC, ESPN Radio New Orleans 100.3 FM):

126.8: New Orleans offensive rating over its past five games, which ranks third in the NBA since Feb. 12, behind only Dallas (134.5) and Brooklyn (127.7). That’s the good news. The bad news, as Stan Van Gundy discussed after Saturday’s practice, is that the Pelicans have not been able to capitalize on that prolific offense, winning just once during the five-game span. “You only get one win out of it, which I think tells you pretty clearly that offense is not the problem,” Van Gundy said. “Our offense has been good because we’re doing a great job sharing the ball; Zion (Williamson), Brandon (Ingram) and Lonzo (Ball) are playing at a high level; and we’ve done a really good job playing together. What we are is sort of a 180 from where we were early in the year, when we were a good defensive team, but (concerned more) about (offense).” On the season, New Orleans is the NBA’s seventh-best offensive team (115.1). All six squads ahead of the Pelicans in offense are at least three games over .500, from 16-13 Denver to 24-6 Utah.

5: New Orleans ranking among the 30 NBA teams in both defensive rebounding percentage and points allowed in the paint, two positive statistics that belie the team’s struggles at that end of the floor. On Saturday, Van Gundy pointed out that the Pelicans are doing well statistically in several defensive categories, but three-point defense has been enough of a problem that it’s overwhelming much of the good. New Orleans is also middle of the pack in fast-break points allowed (13th, 12.1 per game). In addition to porous three-point defense – the Pelicans rank last at 16.3 makes allowed per game and 29th in percentage – New Orleans has not created turnovers at a high rate (19th). The defense is also second-worst in the NBA in blocks per game (3.8), a hair ahead of Washington. No Pelican averages one block, with Ingram coming closest at 26 swats in his 29 games.

1.6: Steals per 36 minutes for Pelicans rookie guard Kira Lewis Jr., who has shown an ability to disrupt opponents and wreak havoc from the weakside of the defense. The ultra-quick lottery pick from Alabama had a four-steal game at Detroit on Feb. 14 and has come up with at least one theft in three of the past four games. Among Pelicans who’ve logged notable minutes, Lewis ranks second in steals per minute, trailing only Nickeil Alexander-Walker (2.1 steals per 36). Van Gundy on the 19-year-old Lewis: “He reads plays really, really well. He’s got great anticipation. He’s quick and has great hands, and he’s fearless. He does a good job off the ball. Where his improvement’s got to come defensively – and this is the reverse of what I see normally with young players – is on the ball. Keeping the ball in front of him and being able to pressure the ball a little bit more. Off the ball, he’s way ahead of the curve for a young guy.”

Previous game starting lineups

BOSTON (15-14)

Friday win vs. Atlanta

Kemba Walker, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Daniel Theis, Tristan Thompson

Notes: This group is 2-1, but has not started consecutive games this season, getting the nod Feb. 2, Feb. 9 and Feb. 19. … Boston has already used 16 different starting lineups, with the most common going 5-3 and consisting of currently-sidelined Marcus Smart, Brown, Tatum, Theis and Thompson. … Thirteen Boston players have started at least once, including once apiece by rookie Payton Pritchard and second-year pros Carsen Edwards, Javonte Green and LSU product Tremont Waters.

NEW ORLEANS (12-17)

Friday loss vs. Phoenix

Lonzo Ball, Eric Bledsoe, Brandon Ingram, Zion Williamson, Willy Hernangomez

Notes: This group is 0-1. Hernangomez made his first start with New Orleans on Friday, the first time he’s been in an NBA first string since 2019 for Charlotte. … Hernangomez became the 10th different Pelicans player to start a game this season. Beyond the five players in the team’s most common starting group, only Alexander-Walker has recorded a victory as a starter (Jan. 17 at Sacramento).

Pelicans keys to victory

DYNAMIC DUOS

Boston’s Brown and Tatum, along with New Orleans’ Williamson and Ingram, represent the only pair of teammates in the NBA who rank in the top 20 of scoring this season. Brown and Tatum are No. 11 and 13, while Williamson and Ingram are a few pegs lower at No. 14 and 19. The future appears to be very bright for both franchises based on the talent and youth of this quartet, with the oldest being only 24 (Brown).

NO BOSTON THREE PARTY

New Orleans continues to allow too many three-pointers, a costly aspect of Phoenix’s fourth-quarter dominance Friday in the Smoothie King Center. Boston presents another major challenge in this category, ranking eighth in the NBA in three-point percentage (37.7). Tatum and Walker make 2.8 treys per game, followed by Brown at 2.5.

TEST OF DEPTH

Both teams are seeking more production from their benches, with the Celtics and Pelicans tied for 28th in the NBA in scoring from reserves (31.7 ppg). In fairness, both teams’ second units have been productive in other areas, such as rebounding, where Boston subs are seventh (17.4 rpg) and New Orleans backups place ninth (17.3). The biggest bench edge stat-wise for Boston probably comes in three-point shooting, where the Cs are eighth in percentage, but the Pels are 24th.

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