Pelicans shootaround update presented by HUB International: West’s current seventh- and eighth-place teams meet in Utah

by Jim Eichenhofer

SALT LAKE CITY – Friday’s game at Utah is only game 22 of the regular season for New Orleans, not 72 or 82. Yet for a variety of reasons, the matchup against the Jazz holds a bit more importance than your standard Western Conference meeting in early December. The Pelicans (11-10) and Jazz (11-11) are currently seventh and eighth in the West, respectively, but for New Orleans to not flip-flop spots in the standings with Utah on Friday, it needs to post what would figure to be a very hard-fought win in a difficult venue.

New Orleans also must win at Vivint Smart Home Arena to remain over .500 on the road overall so far, an impressive line on the team’s early-season resume. At 6-5 away from Louisiana, the Pelicans are light years ahead of last season, which saw a sixth road victory not occur until Jan. 12 (their seventh road win of ’16-17 happened Feb. 10 at Minnesota).

In addition, the Pelicans are currently 3-3 midway through an 11-game stretch of facing only West opponents. The schedule doesn’t get any easier in terms of caliber of opponent over the next few days, with a Saturday road back-to-back looming in Portland, followed by Monday’s four-game homestand opener vs. Golden State. If the Pelicans are to either maintain their current spot in the standings or move up a few rungs in the next week-plus, they’ll have to do it against some stiff competition.

Notes from shootaround in the Beehive State:

During its active four-game winning streak, which began Nov. 22, Utah is leading the NBA in offensive efficiency, scoring 123.5 points per 100 possessions (via The Jazz have six players averaging double-digit points this season, as well as five members connecting on over 40 percent from three-point range.

“We’ve just got to be disciplined,” Pelicans guard E’Twaun Moore said of his team’s defense. “Be where we’re supposed to be, (help near the basket) and rebound. (The Jazz) are very disciplined, play well as a team, pass, cut, swing the ball, share. They just play together. When you play against a team like that, you never know where the attack is coming from. Everybody has to be ready.” …

Pelicans forward Darius Miller on one objective while facing Utah: “Try to make them uncomfortable. They do a great job of running their offense. Keep their shooters from getting easy looks. Just play with a lot of intensity.” …

Miller (39/80) enters Friday’s eight-game NBA slate ranked second in the league in three-point percentage at 48.8. Miami’s Kelly Olynyk (26/53) has the only better rate, at 49.1, though he’s attempted 27 fewer treys than Miller.