Behind the Numbers presented by Entergy: Heat at Pelicans (3/4/21)
A look at three key numbers related to Thursday’s game at the Smoothie King Center between Miami and New Orleans (7:30 p.m. Central, TNT, ESPN Radio New Orleans 100.3 FM):
5-1, 1-4: New Orleans record in the first and second games of back-to-backs this season, respectively. The only second-game victory occurred Feb. 6 vs. Memphis, an opponent the Pelicans have beaten under all circumstances over the past two seasons, going 5-0. New Orleans did not have any back-to-backs through the first 16 games of the campaign, but since Jan. 30 the Pelicans have dropped the latter half of them to Houston (Jan. 30), Chicago (Feb. 10), Portland (Feb. 17) and Milwaukee (Feb. 25). They started 2020-21 at 5-0 in the first part of back-to-backs, before finally losing Wednesday to Chicago. There were previous victories in back-to-back openers against Milwaukee (Jan. 29), Indiana (Feb. 5), Houston (Feb. 9), Memphis (Feb. 16) and Detroit (Feb. 24). The Pelicans will try to buck that trend Thursday against Miami, which has gone 2-2 in the second half of its previous back-to-backs this season. The Heat have only played one back-to-back since late January.
7-7: New Orleans record against the Eastern Conference this season, which sounds as average as that would indicate, but the West has been so dominant against the East in 2020-21 that the Pelicans have lost ground on virtually every conference rival in this category. A .500 record against the East actually places New Orleans 12th among the 15 West clubs, ahead of only Sacramento (7-11 vs. the East), Houston (3-12) and Minnesota (3-14). Southwest Division leader San Antonio had multiple games postponed recently against the East, but has gone a near-perfect 6-1 in interconference games. Fellow division members Memphis and Dallas are 8-5 and 9-6, respectively, accounting for a portion of those teams’ lead on New Orleans in the overall standings. It doesn’t make mathematical sense based on the levels of competition, but the Pelicans have been better defensively against the West (115.9 points allowed per 100 possessions, compared to 117.0 vs. the East). Especially when you consider seven of the NBA’s best nine offenses are in the West. By the way, the Pelicans have already played 14 games against top-10 offenses, including wrapping up season series vs. Milwaukee (NOLA went 1-1) Utah (1-2), Phoenix (1-2) and Toronto (2-0).
11: Pelicans rank in three-point shooting percentage since Feb. 1, after they were near the bottom of the league for much of the first month-plus of the regular season. As a result of the multi-week improvement in accuracy, New Orleans is now in the middle of the pack over the course of the entire season, at No. 17 on a 36.3 percent rate. The Pelicans are threatening to surpass their 37.0 percent from 2019-20, which placed them seventh among the 30 teams. Lonzo Ball is leading New Orleans at 40 percent from deep (technically 39.6) this season, followed by Eric Bledsoe (39 percent), Brandon Ingram (38 percent) and JJ Redick (36 percent).
Previous game starting lineups
Tuesday loss vs. Atlanta
Goran Dragic, Kendrick Nunn, Duncan Robinson, Kelly Olynyk, Bam Adebayo
Notes: This group is 1-1, splitting a two-game series against the Hawks in South Florida. … Due to injuries and health and safety protocols, Miami has already used a whopping 17 different starting lineups this season. The most common of Nunn, Robinson, Jimmy Butler, Olynyk and Adebayo has gone 8-3. No other grouping has more than two wins. Butler and Adebayo are both listed as questionable to play Thursday.
NEW ORLEANS (15-20)
Wednesday loss vs. Chicago
Lonzo Ball, Eric Bledsoe, Brandon Ingram, Zion Williamson, Steven Adams
Notes: This group is 13-16, intact for each of the past five games (2-3). … New Orleans has only used six different starting lineups this season, 11 fewer than Miami. … Pelicans starters have logged 439 minutes together in 2020-21.
Pelicans keys to victory
KEEP GETTING BUCKETS
New Orleans will have a much better chance to win Thursday if its offense resembles recent form (No. 1 in the NBA in efficiency since Feb. 1), instead of how it performed Dec. 25 in Miami (only 98 points, 40 percent shooting, 28 percent on three-pointers).
GET TO DUNCAN ROBINSON
The Pelicans must stay attached to the Heat’s elite spot-up shooter, who went 7/13 from beyond the arc on Christmas, a big factor in a 111-98 triumph for Miami over New Orleans.
Stan Van Gundy has been pleased with New Orleans reducing its turnover count lately, a key element to the offense performing at a league-best level. The Pelicans coughed up 19 turnovers in the head-to-head meeting at Miami, which tallied 19 fast-break points in the holiday matinee.