Steven Adams dunks vs. San Antonio

Pelicans shootaround update presented by Entergy: San Antonio lineup in flux Saturday vs. New Orleans

by Jim Eichenhofer
@Jim_Eichenhofer

After a nine-day stretch of no games due to positive COVID cases, San Antonio returned to action Wednesday, but the Spurs team on the floor in Oklahoma City bore little resemblance to the one that played the previous 27 games, due to multiple key absences. The injury list San Antonio submitted ahead of Saturday’s game vs. New Orleans at the AT&T Center is about as big as Texas, including five of the club’s top seven scorers this season. Three of those Spurs are already declared out (Keldon Johnson, Derrick White, Rudy Gay), while No. 1 point producer DeMar DeRozan (19.8) and fourth scorer LaMarcus Aldridge (13.9) are listed as questionable. Aldridge (wrist) came off the bench Wednesday, logging 26 minutes, while DeRozan (personal reasons) last played Feb. 14 at Charlotte.

Although San Antonio’s personnel situation is in flux, that wasn’t something New Orleans talked about much this morning at shootaround. The Pelicans instead focused on what they can do to perform better.

“It hasn’t changed our preparation at all,” reserve catalyst Josh Hart said of San Antonio’s roster uncertainty. “It think (coaches) mentioned it once (in shootaround), but we have no idea who’s in, who’s out. Obviously DeMar’s playing. We know (Aldridge) is playing. We know they’re the head of the snake for them. (But) we don’t have the full gist of who’s not playing. For us, it’s another game with the mentality of these are NBA players, whether they weren’t playing a lot two months ago, or whether they were even in the league two months ago. Everyone in the league is talented and can beat anybody. There can’t be a letup, just because you might not know somebody (on the opponent) or they haven’t had the opportunity to really show what they can do. At the end of the day, I feel like those are the most dangerous (opponents), people who are fighting, scratching and clawing to get minutes, to get a contract.”

Other notes after Saturday’s morning shootaround in the Alamo City:

Hart on Lonzo Ball’s February and the way the point guard is playing right now: “It’s probably the most confident I’ve seen him. For the last month or so, he’s been high 40s (percentage-wise from three-point range). The good thing about it I guess is, the league either is not realizing it, or that’s the shot they’re going to give him. For us, that’s a great look. He’s in a great rhythm right now.” …

Much like a Feb. 14 matchup for New Orleans against Portland, the Pelicans enter Saturday’s game vs. the Spurs with very similar advanced stats over the course of the season, but a multi-game deficit in the standings. New Orleans (14-18) actually has a better net rating than San Antonio (16-12) by 0.1, but trails the Spurs by four games in the Western Conference rundown. Some of that discrepancy can be attributed to the Pelicans winning four games by 20-plus points, while the Spurs have two such wins.


San Antonio scouting report

Offensive efficiency rank: 22 (109.1)

Defensive efficiency rank: 7 (109.5)

Net rating: 16 (-0.4)

Streak: Lost 1

Go-to guy: San Antonio has seven players averaging between 10.2 and 14.1 shots per game, with Dejounte Murray leading that group in attempts. DeRozan’s excellent efficiency (49 percent from the field, 89 percent on free throws) makes him San Antonio’s top scorer, however, at 19.8 points per game. Murray is next in line at 15.6, followed by six other Spurs averaging double-digit points. Murray has led San Antonio in scoring each of the past two contests, sandwiched around a nine-day stretch of four postponements and no games.

On the rise: Fifth-year center Jakob Poeltl – who came to San Antonio with DeRozan in a 2018 blockbuster trade involving Kawhi Leonard – has seen a major uptick in minutes this month. The native of Austria has made seven February starts (out of eight games), after he started thrice over his previous 20 appearances this season. He’s nearly averaging a double-double in February (9.3 ppg, 9.1 rpg), while swatting 22 shots, an average of 2.8 blocks.

Previous game starting lineups

NEW ORLEANS (14-18)

Thursday loss at Milwaukee

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

Notes: This group is 12-14 in 2020-21. … With this group intact, the last time New Orleans lost a game by more than two possessions was on Valentine’s Day, when Detroit posted a 123-112 home victory over the Pelicans. Since then, NOLA has a two-point loss to Portland and four-point defeat at Milwaukee, along with wins over Memphis and Detroit.

SAN ANTONIO (16-12)

Wednesday loss at Oklahoma City

Dejounte Murray, Lonnie Walker, Trey Lyles, Luka Samanic, Jakob Poeltl

Notes: This very unexpected combination is 0-1. … The loss to the Thunder was Samanic’s first start this season and only the second of his NBA career. He’s logged a total of 29 minutes this season and 77 over his two NBA campaigns. … Lyles made just his third start of the season Wednesday and his first since Jan. 12, also at OKC.

Pelicans keys to victory

DEFENSE LIKE DEC. 27

Exactly two months ago in the Pelicans’ home opener, they played one of their best defensive games all season, holding the Spurs to just 95 points, 43 percent shooting from the field and a mere eight foul shots. The way 2020-21 has trended across the league, it might be unrealistic to expect similar numbers in the rematch, but New Orleans must clamp down defensively in a road venue where it has experienced little success.

STRENGTH VS. STRENGTH

When the Pelicans have the ball, their sixth-rated offense (115.6 points per 100 possessions, via NBA.com) will face a major test in the Spurs’ seventh-rated defense. New Orleans has zoomed to No. 1 in offense in February (123.0), while San Antonio is No. 7 in February defense (109.1), playing a league-low eight games this month.

BACKCOURT BOOST

Ball and Bledsoe combined to shoot 10/20 from three-point range Thursday at Milwaukee, one of their best combined shooting games of the season. In the Dec. 27 win over San Antonio, Ball turned in a stellar all-around performance, with 16 points, eight rebounds, five assists and five steals. Bledsoe struggled offensively (seven points, 3/11 shooting) on Dec. 27, but sealed the 98-95 win by blocking DeRozan’s three-point attempt in the final seconds.

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