Lonzo Ball dishes a pass at Denver

Behind the Numbers presented by HUB International: Pelicans at Rockets (2/2/20)

by Jim Eichenhofer

HOUSTON – A look at three key numbers related to Sunday’s game at the Toyota Center between New Orleans and Houston (1 p.m. Central, ABC, ESPN New Orleans 100.3 FM):

12-6, 9-9: Won-loss records for New Orleans and Houston, respectively, since Christmas. In hindsight, the Dec. 25 holiday was a sign of things to come over the next six weeks for both teams, because since New Orleans posted an upset on Denver’s home floor, the Pelicans have been one of the Western Conference’s top squads. Meanwhile, Houston was upset on Christmas by struggling Golden State, beginning an up-and-down stretch for the Rockets, who were 21-9 prior to that. However, in Houston’s defense, the vast majority of those recent defeats have been against teams currently in playoff position, including two losses to Oklahoma City and one apiece vs. Memphis, the Lakers and Denver. Over its last 18 games, New Orleans has the NBA’s eighth-best record – as well as the West’s sixth-best mark, trailing only Utah (14-4), Memphis (13-5), Oklahoma City (15-6), Denver (13-7) and the Lakers (12-5). Houston’s 9-9 mark is ninth in the conference over the same timeframe. The Pelicans have the league’s second-best offense since Christmas, at 119.9 points per 100 possessions, via NBA.com. Fittingly, while winning exactly half of its last 18 games, Houston ranks 16th among the league’s 30 teams in both offense and defense.

1, 5: Rank among the 30 NBA teams in three-point attempts per game for Houston and New Orleans, respectively. The Rockets are again on pace to lead the league in launching threes this season, putting up 43.4 per game, while the Pelicans fire an average of 38.1. By Houston standards, however, the Rockets have begun to attempt relatively fewer treys lately, perhaps partly because they have not been making them at a high rate. Despite being the club that relies most heavily on shots beyond the arc, Houston is only No. 21 in three-point percentage this season (34.9), as its two most prolific gunners – James Harden and Eric Gordon – are shooting 35.7 and 34.9 percent individually. New Orleans is capitalizing much more on its affinity for the three ball, placing third in the NBA in percentage at 37.4, trailing only Utah (38.6) and Miami (37.6). It certainly helps that the three Pelicans who shoot the most from long distance are all at 36.2 percent or better. JJ Redick leads the way with a 46.7 percent rate, while Brandon Ingram is at an even 40.0, followed by Lonzo Ball. That trio combines to take about 19 trifectas per game.

9: Years since New Orleans won the head-to-head season series against the Rockets, during so in 2010-11 with a 3-1 edge, still under the “Hornets” nickname. New Orleans won’t win the four-game set with the Rockets this season either, but the Pelicans have a chance to split it at two wins apiece by prevailing Sunday. After two narrow, early-season losses to the Rockets by a combined nine points, the Pelicans notched a 127-112 victory Dec. 29, taking advantage of DNPs by both James Harden and Russell Westbrook. However, New Orleans did not have rookie Zion Williamson in any of the first three meetings with Houston. Speaking of being short-handed, New Orleans has four players averaging at least 19.0 points per game against Houston this season, but all four of those Pelicans have played in exactly two of the three meetings with the Rockets. Ingram is averaging 31.0 points on 61.5 percent shooting from the field vs. Houston, while Ball is at 22.5 ppg and has gone 11/21 from three-point range. Jrue Holiday (21.5 ppg) and E’Twaun Moore (19.5 ppg) have also had big offensive games.

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