New Orleans Pelicans at Dallas Mavericks
Time: 6 PM (CT), NBA League Pass
Spread: NO -3.5
Betting odds c/o 5dimes
The New Orleans Pelicans are not going to be the disaster they appeared to be after opening the season 0-8. The return of Jrue Holiday and some complementary players heating up has allowed the thriving Anthony Davis to taste some victories.
While the Pelicans had a four-game win streak snapped by the Portland Trail Blazers on Friday night, the team is 6-11 and still precariously close to a No. 8 spot in the West with over three-quarters of the 2016-17 season still to be played. New Orleans travels to face a woeful and struggling Dallas Mavericks team as 3.5 point favorites at 6 PM (Central) Sunday on NBA League Pass.
Jrue Holiday’s return has played a plenty big role in New Orleans’ turnaround. The one-time All-Star has returned to form rather quickly, and while Tim Frazier has remained the starter for Alvin Gentry, that could be coming to an end soon—particularly after Frazier’s poor game in Portland on Friday. That is not to say Frazier is going to be relegated to the bench, but the Pelicans are a superior team with Holiday running the show and he should be back in game-shape enough for him to take the helm now.
Holiday has averaged 16 points and 6.6 assists in just 26 minutes a night in his five games since returning, but he has yet to start. Perhaps most amazingly, he has become something of a lockdown defender for Gentry, drawing the assignment of Andrew Wiggins in the Pelicans’ victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves and holding the young star to just two made field goals in the game. The Pelicans still are awaiting the returns of Quincy Pondexter and Tyreke Evans, but things are starting to fall into place for a team many did not want to see languish in light of just how brilliant one Anthony Davis has been.
Davis has returned to his spot as the league’s premier big man, and he is leading the NBA in scoring at 31.3 points per game, while also snagging 10.8 rebounds, dishing 2.1 assists and coming up with 4.57 blocks/steals per game. His PER of 31.3 illustrates just how much better he has been than the league’s centers this year, and the Pelicans could end up being better than the 2014-15 iteration of the team that made the playoffs.
Gone from that team are Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon, but New Orleans has thrived with Terrence Jones and an underrated E’Twaun Moore filling the holes once occupied by the departed pair. Jones has battled through some minor injuries and the flu, and he is averaging 11 points, 5.6 rebounds and 2.19 blocks/steals per game while shooting 47.6 percent from the floor and a (must improve) 24.2 percent from three-point range. Moore ranks No. 3 on the team in scoring at 12.1 points per game, seeming as though he has finally found his niche and calling card as an NBA guard.
A Frazier-Holiday-Moore three-guard rotation may prove far more effective than anyone would have guessed prior to this season. The Pelicans still desperately need some improvement at the 5-spot, though, where Omer Asik and Alexis Ajinca leave plenty to be desired. While Asik’s on/off numbers have been better than Ajinca’s, the eye test supports the notion that both are fairly horrible. The Pelicans will be smart and likely seek to draft a top big man, particularly if they can manage to get in position to snag the likes of Bam Adebayo, Harry Giles or Marques Bolden.
It is precariously early to project New Orleans into the lottery, however, never mind guess whether they will be positioned to snag one of the top bigs in the 2017 draft. The only thing that is clear is that this is a team with plenty of talent and a true franchise power forward, something that cannot be underestimated when it comes to building a winning franchise.
While New Orleans still has a hole to climb out of due to its poor start, the team is far from hopeless and Davis will keep the Pelicans in most games given his sheer brilliance on both ends of the court. He not only had a 45-point game against the Timberwolves, but he also put the clamps on 2016 Rookie of the Year Karl-Anthony Towns, holding the promising (and overhyped?) big man to just 4 of 11 shooting, and proving definitively that he is still the best big in the Association—and the best one out of Kentucky.
The Dallas Mavericks have to be unequivocally the worst team in the NBA this season. At 2-13 Dallas has struggled to score points and has now dropped eight straight contests. The Mavs own the league’s most cutie offense, scoring just 91.5 points per game, and it also ranks last in rebounding. Dallas has the No. 10 stingiest defense, but that is somewhat misleading because a lot of it is due to pace.
Dallas plays at the third-slowest pace in the league and its defensive rating is actually No. 23, which better indicates how horrible the Mavs have been on both ends of the court this season. Dallas is allowing 108 points per 100 possessions, and Rick Carlisle has to be growing frustrated with the injuries, age and sheer lack of talent (due to declination mostly) on his team.
Harrison Barnes cannot absorb much of the blame, as the lone bright spot this season for Dallas. The vaunted free agent acquisition has mostly fulfilled expectations this season in increasing his scoring average to 20 points per game while playing 37 minutes a night. He has just had such precious little help. J.J. Barea played well, but he has appeared in just nine games and has been on the shelf with a tear in the muscle that connects his left calf to the Achilles’ tendon.
Barea is still expected to miss six more weeks, but when Barea is the second leading scorer and a counted-upon cog, what does that really say about a team? He is a 5’9” shoot-first point guard whose deceptively great NBA Finals appearance during the Mavs’ championship run more or less has sustained him for years after in a mostly mediocre career.
Dirk Nowitzki, of course, is also behind the decline. He now clearly has hit his “career wall,” and he has averaged just 12 points and six boards per game in his five starts this season while playing 26 minutes a night.
Will Dirk magically turn it on and return to the brilliance he has shown for nearly two decades? Doubtful. Super doubtful, that is.
The writing has been on the wall for years with Nowitzki, if one looks at his declination in the rebounding column and his steady reduction in minutes. It is not to take anything away from an All-time legend and the greatest player to ever come from Europe, but Nowitzki will not rekindle his form, nor will the Mavs. It is going to be a rough season, and Dallas will be wise to hang onto its top 2017 draft pick and begin to rebuild. Retooling has to be out of the question with a club this bad.