Naji Marshall drives for a layup vs. Golden State

Behind the Numbers presented by Entergy: Pelicans at Warriors (5/14/21)

by Jim Eichenhofer
@Jim_Eichenhofer

A look at three key numbers related to Friday’s game at Chase Center between New Orleans and Golden State (8:30 p.m. Central, Bally Sports New Orleans, ESPN, ESPN Radio New Orleans 100.3 FM):

8, 620: Naji Marshall minutes played for New Orleans prior to the 2021 All-Star break, followed by his allotment following the midseason hiatus. The rookie from Xavier (Ohio) is one of numerous examples of New Orleans young players getting a much greater opportunity to contribute during the latter portion of the 2020-21 schedule, partly as a result of midseason roster changes and recent injuries within the starting lineup. Marshall’s post-break uptick in playing time is the most dramatic illustration of that development, but fellow rookie Kira Lewis Jr. is another, having gone from 273 minutes in the first half of the season to 577 since mid-March. Jaxson Hayes has gone from 311 to 609, while fellow second-year frontcourt player Wenyen Gabriel jumped from 12 to 178. Even second-year guard Nickeil Alexander-Walker – who was sidelined by injury for more than a month of the second half of this season – has nearly played as many post-break minutes as he did beforehand. Alexander-Walker logged 495 minutes prior to All-Star, compared to 435 since, giving him a realistic chance to surpass his first-half tally during the final two games of 2020-21 this weekend.

0: Currently in eighth place in the Western Conference standings, based on a quirk in the schedule, Golden State (37-33) realistically has “zero” on-paper incentive to win Friday, because the result of the Warriors’ game is irrelevant in relation to ninth-place Memphis (37-33). Memphis visits Golden State on Sunday, an outcome that will determine which team earns the coveted No. 8 seed, regardless of what happens before then. The Grizzlies and Warriors are tied in their season series at 1-1, meaning the squad that prevails Sunday in an ESPN afternoon game will claim the tiebreaker, so gaining a one-game lead prior to then won’t matter (Memphis hosts Sacramento tonight at 8). Given those circumstances, it probably shouldn’t be a huge surprise that Golden State submitted a lengthy injury list Thursday ahead of Friday’s matchup vs. New Orleans, including Steph Curry being questionable to play. The Warriors conceivably could end up having momentous games to play every other day next week, beginning Sunday, then into the play-in tournament.

7: New Orleans rank among the 30 NBA teams in defensive efficiency since the All-Star break, which covers a 34-game span for the Pelicans. Although Wednesday’s results at that end of the floor were not stellar (Dallas scored 77 first-half points and totaled 125), that was a second-half anomaly for New Orleans, which has given up just 110.1 points per 100 possessions since March 10. The only clubs ranked higher defensively in the second half of the slate are Philadelphia (league-best 105.3 defensive rating since All-Star), Utah, New York, the Lakers, Clippers and Golden State. All of those squads are headed to the postseason. Based on second-half defensive numbers only, the Pelicans are the only top-13 club that has already been eliminated from play-in contention. New Orleans is No. 21 in offense (110.6) since the All-Star break.

PREVIOUS GAME STARTING LINEUPS

NEW ORLEANS (31-39, 11TH IN WEST)

Wednesday loss at Dallas

Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Eric Bledsoe, Naji Marshall, James Johnson, Willy Hernangomez

Notes: This group is 0-1 and was the 15th different starting lineup used by the Pelicans this season. A variation of this group started April 2 vs. Atlanta, but with Hayes at center instead of Hernangomez. … New Orleans is tied with Sacramento for No. 11 in the West, with a Sunday home game remaining vs. the Lakers. The Kings play at Memphis tonight, followed by a Sunday home game vs. Utah.

GOLDEN STATE (37-33, 8TH IN WEST)

Tuesday win vs. Phoenix

Steph Curry, Kent Bazemore, Andrew Wiggins, Draymond Green, Kevon Looney

Notes: This group is 10-5, making it the most successful Warriors starting lineup of the season among the 15 they’ve used. This combination also started both games at New Orleans last week and is 6-2 since April 29. … If the season ended today, Golden State would face the seventh-seeded Lakers in the play-in round. If the Warriors drop to No. 9, they will host San Antonio, which is assured of finishing 10th.

PELICANS KEYS TO VICTORY PRESENTED BY FANDUEL

OPPORTUNITY KNOCKS

With New Orleans eliminated from play-in contention and Golden State needing to prepare for Sunday’s showdown vs. Memphis (see above), Friday is an ideal chance for both teams to give lesser-used players significant minutes.

FINISH WITH A FLOURISH

First-round draft picks from 2019, Hayes (16.3 points per game on road trip) and Alexander-Walker (14.7 ppg, 4.0 apg) are looking to continue building on their recent performance, as they wrap up their second seasons in the NBA.

DIDI DEFENSE

A rookie from Brazil, Didi Louzada entertained New Orleans fans Wednesday with his relentless defense vs. Dallas in the 21-year-old’s NBA debut. It was one of the most fun aspects of an otherwise rough night for the Pelicans.

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