New Orleans Pelicans at Orlando Magic
Time: 6 PM CT (NBA LP)
Spread: ORL -4.5
Betting odds c/o 5dimes
The New Orleans Pelicans were surprise crashers of the 2015 playoffs, but Anthony Davis and company have their work cut out for themselves to return this season. New Orleans is just 11-19 and trails the No. 8 Utah Jazz by three games.
The Orlando Magic meanwhile are the reverse-negative of this issue, as a poor lottery team that has turned it around under first-year coach Scott Skiles. The Magic are 10-6 at the Amway Center where it will host the Pelicans as 4.5 point favorites according to NBA oddsmakers.
Orlando has won six of its past 10 games, but the defense that has helped render the team so successful has dissipated over the past six games. Orlando is still allowing only 98.9 points per game, while scoring 101. The Magic’s 2.1 point differential ranks No. 7 in the Eastern Conference while the Magic are currently situated No. 8 in the East.
Orlando’s most recent game was a 108-101 loss to the Miami Heat as Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh scored 24 points apiece. The Heat feasted on Orlando’s typically tough defense, and other than center Nikola Vucevic, the Magic had few bright spots.
Vucevic has scored 20 points or more in his past six games after a slow start to the season that saw the gifted center averaging less than 15 points per game. It was part of a balanced attack by the Magic, but now it appears Orlando has turned to its most legitimate star. Orlando is working the inside-outside attack far better, and while the defense has weakened, the offense has strengthened.
Simply, the Pelicans have too much talent to wind up in the lottery again, but its horrible 1-11 start created a hole the team is still trying to dig itself out of. The Pelicans are .500 over its past 10 games, and is just starting to get things going outside the strong play of Anthony Davis. The MVP candidate is leading the Pels in scoring (23.6 points), rebounding (11) and blocked shots (2.7). He has become perhaps the league’s best defensive big man (Hassan Whiteside might argue otherwise) and his offense is basically all that has kept the Pelicans afloat this year.
Tyreke Evans seems to have discovered his niche in playing point guard. The former Sacramento King averaged 20/5/5 as a rookie in becoming just the fifth player in league history to do so, but he fell off after that first season and only now seems to be rediscovering what was working so well for him.
Evans is averaging 15.2 points, 5.8 rebounds and 7.2 assists per game, and his play may make point guard Jrue Holiday expendable this February should some team offer New Orleans a suitable player or package for the talented point guard.
New Orleans spent a lottery pick to obtain Holiday and he has played well over his past five games, but the Pelicans have proven it can it done with two combo guards in the backcourt, the other being Eric Gordon.
Gordon seems to fully aware that this is a crucial season for his career. He is a free agent this summer and is averaging 16.1 points, 2.8 assists and 1.2 steals/blocks per game, though his efficiency is somewhat poor (14.5 PER shows it). Ryan Anderson has been the three-point specialist that the Pelicans have needed. He had a down year a season ago due to the tragic death of his fiancee, but all indications are that his mental state is far better this season and his 17.3 point and 6.4 rebound per game averages fully indicate that.
The Pelicans have a glut of talent at the guard positions, though, and that will require some roster adjustments if the team can find favorable trades. Starting Evans and Gordon has minimized the role of Holiday, Ish Smith, Toney Douglas and Norris Cole. A team only needs so many guards, and after rotations tighten up in the postseason the Pels are going to have some good talent either riding the bench, or relocated via a trade. Expect New Orleans to be active in the trade market.
The Pelicans need this game a lot more than Orlando, but expect Skiles to have impressed the importance of Orlando returning to its defensive habits that have made the team a turn-around success this season. Skiles is an early season candidate for coach of the year, but the Magic have to nip its defensive lacking in the bud if it is to continue its ascent towards a postseason berth.