Steven Adams blocks a Joel Embiid shot in Friday's win

Behind the Numbers presented by Entergy: Pelicans at Cavaliers (4/11/21)

by Jim Eichenhofer
@Jim_Eichenhofer

A look at three key numbers related to Sunday’s game at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse between New Orleans and Cleveland (6 p.m. Central, Bally Sports New Orleans, ESPN Radio New Orleans 100.3 FM):

1: New Orleans win since Jan. 3 while shooting under 44 percent from the field, as the Pelicans did Friday (43.3 percent) during their 101-94 victory over Philadelphia. Over the course of 2020-21, New Orleans is just 3-9 when it makes less than 44 percent of its shots from the floor, but two of those victories occurred very early in the campaign (Dec. 27 vs. San Antonio at 38.3 percent; Jan. 2 vs. Toronto at 42.2 percent). The Pelicans have rarely been able to overcome poor offensive nights due to a defense that’s improved marginally recently but still ranks 28th in efficiency (115.1 points allowed per 100 possessions, via NBA.com), but Friday’s seven-point triumph over the Eastern Conference’s current first-place club was a step in the right direction. 76ers All-Stars Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons were held to just 8/22 shooting and 24 points. In New Orleans’ March 12 rout over Cleveland, the Cavaliers’ starting five shot 15/44 (34 percent).

5-5: New Orleans record in its last 10 games, which normally would mean treading water (or worse) in the Western Conference standings, but the scoreboard has been extremely favorable to the Pelicans in recent weeks. Ninth-place San Antonio (24-26) is just 2-8 in its last 10 games, now holding a mere two-game advantage on New Orleans (23-29). Despite a win late Saturday over Houston, 10th-place Golden State (25-28) has gone only 3-7 in its last 10 contests, allowing the Pelicans to get within 1.5 games in the race for the final play-in spot. With New Orleans playing twice in the next 48 hours and Golden State hosting red-hot Denver (league-best eight-game active win streak) on Monday, the standings could change significantly again in the near future.

10: Minutes played Friday by a unique Pelicans combination that Stan Van Gundy described as “our two-power forward, two-center, one-guard lineup.” Given New Orleans’ current injury and player availability predicament, the head coach got creative against Philadelphia, relying on a never-seen-before five-man unit of James Johnson and Zion Williamson (the power forwards); Jaxson Hayes and Willy Hernangomez (the centers); and rookie Kira Lewis Jr. (the guard). The supersized lineup produced excellent results in its 10 minutes together, with a net rating of plus-12.9 per 100 possessions. All five players finished in the positive side of the ledger in individual plus-minus, headed by plus-10 from both Hayes and Hernangomez.

PREVIOUS GAME STARTING LINEUPS

NEW ORLEANS (23-29, 11TH IN WEST)

Friday win vs. Philadelphia

Eric Bledsoe, Naji Marshall, Brandon Ingram, Zion Williamson, Steven Adams

Notes: This group is 1-0 and was the 12th different starting five used by the Pelicans in 2020-21. … A rookie who’s earned more playing time partly due to his defense, Marshall has made two starts this month, including an April 2 home loss vs. Atlanta. … Multi-game New Orleans starters Lonzo Ball (41 starts), Nickeil Alexander-Walker (10) and Josh Hart (four) are all sidelined by injuries. Twelve different Pelicans have started at least once this season, with five players starting 40-plus games.

CLEVELAND (19-32, 12TH IN EAST)

Saturday loss vs. Toronto

Darius Garland, Collin Sexton, Isaac Okoro, Dean Wade, Kevin Love

Notes: This group is 2-3, starting each of the past five games, including road wins at San Antonio and Oklahoma City, as well as losses to Philadelphia, Miami and Toronto. … Love has only played in nine games this season, but one of those was March 12 at New Orleans. He was limited to just 10 minutes of action in the Smoothie King Center. … Multi-game Cleveland starters Larry Nance (27 starts) and Jarrett Allen (21 starts after arriving in an in-season trade from Brooklyn) were sidelined by injuries Saturday against the Raptors.

PELICANS KEYS TO VICTORY PRESENTED BY FANDUEL

WEEKEND OF DEFENSE

New Orleans will try to follow up one of its best defensive performances of the season Friday with another strong effort, this time on the road in Ohio. Facing Philadelphia two days ago, the Pelicans held the 76ers to 42 percent shooting from the field and forced 19 turnovers. New Orleans improved to 5-0 when it holds its opponent under 100 points.

KEEP DOMINATING THE PAINT

This could refer to both Friday (New Orleans won points in the paint vs. Philadelphia by a 66-34 margin), as well as the team’s March 12 blowout over Cleveland (the Pelicans won points in the paint 66-40). Rebounding-wise, the Pelicans bested the Cavaliers by a whopping 70-33 margin in last month’s meeting.

GO BIG

Hernangomez and Hayes seemed to have a blast Friday in a rare opportunity to be on the floor at the same time, providing New Orleans with an immense boost off the bench. The backup centers combined for 22 points and 16 rebounds against Philadelphia, doing so in highly efficient fashion. Both players shot exactly 5/6 from the field, feasting around the rim.

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