Behind the Numbers presented by HUB International: Clippers at Pelicans (1/28/18)

by Jim Eichenhofer
@Jim_Eichenhofer

A look at three key numbers related to Sunday’s game at the Smoothie King Center between Los Angeles and New Orleans (3 p.m. Central, Fox Sports New Orleans, WRNO 99.5 FM):

3: Games separating sixth-place New Orleans (27-21) and ninth-place Los Angeles (24-24) in the Western Conference standings, with 34 games remaining for both teams. The Clippers have emerged as a bit of an X-factor in the West playoff race, mostly given up for dead when they were 11-18 and injury-riddled, but 13-6 since and back in the hunt. The Pelicans entered 2017-18 with a primary goal of returning to the postseason after a two-year absence; that remains the top objective now, even with four-time All-Star big DeMarcus Cousins (torn left Achilles) out for the season. A victory Sunday would not only give New Orleans a four-game cushion over the current No. 9 team in the standings, but also mean a 2-0 season-series edge for the Pelicans over the Clippers (head-to-head record is the first tiebreaker). The squads have two remaining matchups in California, with New Orleans visiting Staples Center on March 6 and April 9.

35, 15: Points and rebounds for Cousins in the Nov. 11 meeting between the Clippers and Pelicans, a 111-103 win for New Orleans. It figures to be a major challenge for the Pelicans to try to replace the scoring and rebounding prowess of Cousins, who turned in perhaps his most efficient shooting performance of the campaign in that Nov. 11 tilt. Among the 19 times Cousins attempted at least 20 shots in a game this season, his best shooting accuracy from the field came against the Clippers, at 14/23 (60.9 percent). Speaking of trying to replace Cousins, because he has played in all 48 previous games this season, New Orleans is guaranteed to trot out its eighth different starting lineup Sunday. That represents a major positive step forward from last season, when the Pelicans used 28 different starting groups. In 2017-18, the most-common quintet of Cousins, Rajon Rondo, Jrue Holiday, E’Twaun Moore and Anthony Davis sports a 17-9 record, including the Pelicans’ active four-game winning streak. Outside of that fivesome, the most frequent individual starter is Dante Cunningham; New Orleans is 10-10 in his 20 starts.

3: New Orleans rank among the 30 NBA teams in winning percentage during the month of January. By compiling a 9-3 record since the calendar flipped, the Pelicans are behind only Golden State (10-2) and Philadelphia (7-2). Improvement at the defensive end has been a major factor in NOLA’s stellar January, highlighted by allowing just 104.3 points per 100 possessions, via NBA.com. That defensive efficiency places the Pelicans in the top 10 this month, after they’d been second-worst in the league in December at 110.8 points allowed per 100 possessions. Strangely enough, New Orleans’ three-point shooting success has gone in the opposite direction – the Pelicans are No. 27 in January in percentage from beyond the arc (32.8), after they’d been No. 1 in December (43.2). New Orleans has overcome that drastic dip in perimeter shooting to compile its best overall month during Alvin Gentry’s three-year tenure as head coach.