LaMelo Ball dribbles against older brother Lonzo Ball on Jan. 8

Behind the Numbers presented by Entergy: Pelicans at Hornets (5/9/21)

by Jim Eichenhofer
@Jim_Eichenhofer

A look at three key numbers related to Sunday’s game at Spectrum Center between New Orleans and Charlotte (6 p.m. Central, Bally Sports New Orleans, NBA TV, ESPN Radio New Orleans 100.3 FM):

6: New Orleans players who logged 20-plus minutes in Friday’s loss at Philadelphia but did not play at all for the Pelicans four months ago in the previous head-to-head matchup vs. Charlotte. On Jan. 8, the Hornets rallied from a double-digit deficit to prevail 118-110 in the Smoothie King Center, a game in which New Orleans rookies Kira Lewis Jr. and Naji Marshall received DNPs, as did reserve center Willy Hernangomez and second-year forward Wenyen Gabriel. That quartet – in addition to March trade pickups James Johnson and Wes Iwundu – combined to log over 130 minutes in Friday’s 109-107 heartbreaker against the 76ers. While preparing for Sunday’s critical home game, Charlotte might be wise to throw out the game tape from its January triumph, because New Orleans’ personnel has changed drastically as a result of key injuries. The only Pelicans who played in both the Jan. 8 game and the May 7 contest are Lonzo Ball, Eric Bledsoe and Jaxson Hayes.

2: New Orleans (30-37) games behind No. 10 San Antonio (32-35) in the race for the Western Conference’s final play-in spot. Since the Spurs hold the tiebreaker, that means the Pelicans must win three more games than their Southwest Division counterpart over the next eight days, with each club having five games left. Eighth-place Golden State (35-33) is now virtually impossible for New Orleans to catch, with any Warriors win or Pelicans loss eliminating that option. Ninth-place Memphis (34-33) also is poised to lock up a superior position in the standings, with a magic number of just two to guarantee it finishes ahead of New Orleans. The Grizzlies and Pelicans face each other Monday at FedEx Forum, giving Memphis the opportunity to take care of that in one night. If you prefer to be the ultimate optimist, if the Pelicans can sweep this back-to-back against Charlotte and Memphis – combined with San Antonio losing to Milwaukee on Monday night – New Orleans would then only be a half game out of 10th.

1.5: Eighth-place Charlotte (33-34) lead on ninth-place Washington (32-36). Sunday is arguably the most important game the Hornets have played so far this season, as they try to hold off the surging Wizards for a top-eight seed in the East. The difference between finishing eighth and ninth is drastic, with a No. 8 spot providing two chances to win once during the play-in tournament in order to survive, while a No. 9 seed means hosting a single-elimination game against the 10th seed (currently Indiana in the East), then having to beat the loser of the 7-8 matchup. The Hornets have not reached the playoffs since 2016; the only current roster member who was on that squad is center Cody Zeller. Postseason experience could have long-term benefits for a Charlotte roster featuring a total of nine rookies and second-year pros. Incidentally, a win Sunday (or Chicago loss) guarantees the Hornets at least a play-in berth.

PREVIOUS GAME STARTING LINEUPS

NEW ORLEANS (30-37, 11TH IN WEST)

Friday loss at Philadelphia

Lonzo Ball, Eric Bledsoe, Naji Marshall, James Johnson, Willy Hernangomez

Notes: This group is 0-1. Via NBA.com, this group logged 19 minutes together Friday, finishing with a net rating of minus 7.1 per 100 possessions. … New Orleans has used 14 different starting lineups this season. The most common of Ball, Bledsoe, Brandon Ingram, Zion Williamson and Steven Adams has a 17-24 record. … Nickeil Alexander-Walker is listed as probable for Sunday’s game. Adams is questionable, Ingram is doubtful. Williamson and Josh Hart are out.

CHARLOTTE (33-34, 8TH IN EAST)

Friday win vs. Orlando

LaMelo Ball, Terry Rozier, Jalen McDaniels, PJ Washington, Bismack Biyombo

Notes: This group is 2-1, posting a Feb. 28 one-point win at Sacramento, along with a May 6 home loss to Chicago. … Charlotte has used 21 different starting lineups, with the most common going 12-10 and featuring Rozier, Washington, Biyombo, Devonte’ Graham and Gordon Hayward. … Graham (right foot sprain) is questionable Sunday, while Hayward, Cody Martin and Miles Bridges are all listed as out. … If Charlotte wins Sunday, it’s guaranteed to gain a game on either sixth-place Miami (36-31) or seventh-place Boston (35-32), because the Heat and Celtics face each other Sunday afternoon.

PELICANS KEYS TO VICTORY PRESENTED BY FANDUEL

GROUP PROJECT

While playing without its entire starting frontcourt Friday at Philadelphia, New Orleans needed numerous players to step up offensively – and that’s exactly what happened. The Pelicans had a chance to win in the final minute after seven players contributed double-digit points.

BOARDWORK

New Orleans remains the NBA’s No. 1 rebounding team (grabbing 52.9 percent of all available boards), but was soundly defeated by Charlotte in the category Jan. 8, with the Hornets holding a 45-36 edge. LaMelo Ball came off the bench to lead Charlotte with 10 rebounds in just 26 minutes.

TRANSITION DEFENSE

Charlotte may be missing some pieces to its offensive attack due to injury, but the youthful Hornets are dangerous when they can get out and run, ranking 10th in fast-break points (13.8 per game). New Orleans committed 19 turnovers in the Jan. 8 meeting.

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