Zion Williamson takes a shot in the paint vs. New York

Behind the Numbers presented by Entergy: Pelicans at Knicks (4/18/21)

by Jim Eichenhofer
@Jim_Eichenhofer

A look at three key numbers related to Sunday’s game at Madison Square Garden between New Orleans and New York (12 p.m. Central, Bally Sports New Orleans, ESPN, ESPN Radio New Orleans 100.3 FM):

2: New Orleans (25-31) games behind 10th-place San Antonio (26-28) for the final play-in spot in the Western Conference. Both teams sustained difficult defeats Friday, first with the Pelicans losing in overtime after Washington’s Russell Westbrook was fouled on a jumper and sank two free throws with 1.9 seconds left. Trailing by one point to Portland in the final seconds of regulation, the Spurs had multiple chances to win, but couldn’t convert a basket. Not long ago it appeared San Antonio was too far ahead of New Orleans in the West standings for the Spurs to ever enter the conversation in terms of the Pelicans’ postseason hopes, but San Antonio has gone 4-12 over its last 16 games. The Spurs were 22-16 after beating Cleveland on March 19, but since then have struggled mightily. New Orleans was 17-24 on March 19; a slightly above .500 record of 8-7 since has allowed the Pelicans to slice 4.5 games off their deficit behind the Spurs. San Antonio is in action late Saturday evening at Phoenix, meaning New Orleans will enter Sunday’s game at New York either 1.5 or 2.5 games back of 10th.

3, 28: New Orleans rank among the 30 NBA teams since April 9 in defensive efficiency and offensive efficiency, respectively. Based on the way the Pelicans’ season has unfolded, you might think that’s a misprint and those rankings should be flip-flopped, but that’s not the case. Since Brandon Ingram’s return to the lineup five games ago, the Pelicans have been the league’s third-best defensive team, allowing just 103.6 points per 100 possessions, trailing only Philadelphia and Milwaukee during that span. Unfortunately for the Pelicans, their offense has dipped to scoring 105.7 points per 100 possessions, ahead of only Orlando and Oklahoma City. Chalk it up to a small sample size, or perhaps some of the changes New Orleans has been forced to make to its rotation, but its recent games have been uncharacteristically lower-scoring at both ends of the floor. By comparison, over the course of the entire season, New Orleans is 27th in defense, ninth in offense.

2,584: Days since New York compiled a winning streak of at least six games, something the Knicks can accomplish Sunday if it defeats New Orleans. The Knicks won eight consecutive games through March 21, 2014, a streak so long ago that on that date New York’s leading scorer was Amar’e Stoudemire in a victory over the “Process” 76ers, who were paced in points by 2013-14 Rookie of the Year Michael Carter-Williams. With 15 games remaining in this regular season, the Knicks need to go just 7-8 the rest of the way to post their first winning record since 2012-13. Two more wins will equal New York’s most victories in a campaign since a 32-50 mark five years ago.

PREVIOUS GAME STARTING LINEUPS

NEW ORLEANS (25-31, 11TH IN WEST)

Friday loss at Washington

Lonzo Ball, Eric Bledsoe, Brandon Ingram, Zion Williamson, Steven Adams

Notes: This group is 15-20, by far the most common starting five this season for New Orleans. The only other combination used more than three times is Adams, Bledsoe, Ingram, Williamson and Nickeil Alexander-Walker, a quintet that has gone 5-1. … In addition to entering Saturday night two games behind No. 10 San Antonio, the Pelicans are three games back of No. 9 Golden State (28-28). The Warriors visit Boston in ABC’s Saturday prime-time game.

NEW YORK (30-27, 6TH IN EAST)

Friday win at Dallas

Elfrid Payton, RJ Barrett, Reggie Bullock, Julius Randle, Nerlens Noel

Notes: This group is 10-8, together four times during the Knicks’ active five-game win streak. Taj Gibson started in place of Noel in Wednesday’s win at New Orleans. … In an ultra-tight East race, the Knicks are just a half of a game behind fourth-place Atlanta (30-26) and fifth-place Boston (30-26), but also just 1.5 games ahead of seventh-place Miami (28-28). New York appears to be in very comfortable position to at least qualify for the play-in tournament, now seven games ahead of the clubs in 10th (Toronto), 11th (Chicago) and 12th (Washington).

PELICANS KEYS TO VICTORY PRESENTED BY FANDUEL

POWERFUL SOUTHPAWS

Power forward features a matchup of two physical, versatile stars. Randle is on a tear right now. On Friday in Dallas, the first-time All-Star became the first Knicks player to register a 40-10-5 game since Bernard King in 1985, according to NBA TV. Meanwhile, Williamson authored one of the best all-around performances of his career in Wednesday’s 116-106 loss against New York, posting 25 points, eight rebounds and seven assists.

BENCH BATTLE

Alec Burks may not be the first name you think of on the Knicks’ roster, but the veteran guard has proven to be very valuable. He rang up 21 points in Wednesday’s New York win at the Smoothie King Center, combining with fellow reserve guard Derrick Rose to swing the momentum in the second half. New Orleans is coming off a very good game by its bench, as Pelicans subs tallied 42 points at Washington on Friday, led by Naji Marshall (16), James Johnson (11) and Willy Hernangomez (eight).

THREE-POINT DEFENSE

Following a bad series of games in early April, New Orleans has been better defending the three-point arc over its last five contests, highlighted by Washington struggling to 4/27 shooting Friday. The one exception during this recent stretch for the Pelicans’ defense was Wednesday, when the Knicks got hot and went 17/33 from long distance in the Smoothie King Center.

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