Julius Randle powers up to shoot over Houston's Gerald Green

Behind the Numbers presented by HUB International: Rockets at Pelicans (3/24/19)

by Jim Eichenhofer

A look at three key numbers related to Sunday’s game at the Smoothie King Center between Houston and New Orleans (6 p.m. Central, Fox Sports New Orleans, WRNO 99.5 FM):

1, 18: Rank among all NBA players in scoring average during the month of March (through Friday’s games) for Houston MVP candidate James Harden and New Orleans forward/center Julius Randle, respectively. Harden is coming off a 61-point eruption Friday vs. San Antonio, the second time he’s topped 60 points during the 2018-19 campaign (Harden also tallied 57 points in Houston’s previous game, Wednesday at Memphis). Meanwhile, Randle has been a top-20 scorer in recent weeks, even though his stat line took a bit of a hit Wednesday during his six-point night at Orlando (he logged just 22 minutes in New Orleans’ 23-point defeat). Since March 1, Harden is averaging 35.9 points per game; Randle checks in at 24.5 ppg. This is the highest-scoring month of Randle’s five-year NBA career; his top month with the Lakers was 22.3 ppg in March ’18. During his first three seasons in Los Angeles, his best output in a month was 15.0 ppg, but he’s been over 20 ppg in December, February and March in the Crescent City.

10: New Orleans rank among the 30 NBA teams in points scored this season by rookies, a total of 692. First-year pro Frank Jackson leads the group with 456 points, while Kenrich Williams has notched 226 and recent addition Dairis Bertans has contributed 10 in his five appearances. Perhaps not coincidentally, among the nine teams who’ve received more scoring from first-year players, only Sacramento and the Clippers have better records than New Orleans, with the majority of the group predictably being rebuilding squads, including Atlanta (league-most 2,359 points from rookies), Phoenix, Dallas, New York, Cleveland, Memphis and Chicago. This season stands out among the last several for the Pelicans in that they’ve been able to get multiple inexperienced players important court time, something that hasn’t happened much this decade. Last season, New Orleans got a mere 15 points from rookies, which ranked No. 28 in the league, ahead of only Minnesota and Washington. The last time New Orleans has been a top-10 team in rookie scoring was the ’12-13 season, which marked the NBA debuts of ’12 draftees Anthony Davis, Austin Rivers and Darius Miller.

28, 20: Number of different starting lineups for New Orleans and Houston, respectively. To some extent, injuries are an expected part of the game – something the Pelicans have often learned the hard way this decade – but health has greatly affected both of these Southwest Division squads in ’18-19. New Orleans leads the NBA in most first units used this season, causing the Pelicans and Alvin Gentry to constantly shuffle lineups. The Pelicans rank slightly ahead of Cleveland (27) and Phoenix (26) in this category, while not far down the list is the Rockets. New Orleans has had 13 different individuals start a game, and incredibly, every one of those players made at least 13 starts. A total of 52 New Orleans starts were made by players who are no longer on the roster, led by Nikola Mirotic’s 22 times. Fourteen different Houston players have made at least one start, but the group of Rockets with double-digit starts is much fewer than the Pelicans, at nine. P.J. Tucker (73) and Harden (69) have rarely missed games this season.

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