NOP @ HOU
Time: 7 PM CT (NBA TV)
Spread: HOU -3.5
Betting odds c/o Pincle
If the New Orleans Pelicans are to repeat as a postseason team, it will not be easy. Now owners of a 4-14 record the Pelicans travel to face division foe Houston in a game that oddsmakers are favoring the hosting Rockets by 3.5 points. The Over/under for the game is 215 and it will air on NBA TV.
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The Pelicans have yet to win against a fellow Southwest division team, but the 7-11 Houston Rockets have been disappointing too. Houston lost 116-105 to the Detroit Pistons on Monday night, and the team has been horrible in first quarters and halves, trailing 64-41 at the half of that contest. It also trailed by 13 in Sunday’s 116-111 win over the New York Knicks.
Rockets interim HC J.B. Bickerstaff said, “We’re playing with fire when we keep giving teams these big leads.” James Harden is averaging 33.7 points per game in the last seven contests but the Rockets have won just three of those, while allowing four opponents to shoot 51 percent or better from the floor.
Houston and New Orleans split the four game series last season as the Pelicans held Harden to 21.8 points per game, but the Rockets have won seven of the last eight in Houston.
The Pelicans have never lost more than four straight in the past season-plus, but that could happen for a third time in just 19 games, and there is scarcely an illusion that this is the brand of playoff ball it played last season. The team began 0-6 but has hardly righted the ship. Tyreke Evans and Norris Cole are healthy, now though. Evans is averaging 21.5 points per game in his last four while shooting 56.3 percent from the floor. Evans had 20 points and 10 assists in the most recent loss.
The Pelicans surprisingly have struggled most on the defensive end of the court where it has allowed 111 points per game over the last five while being out rebounded by a neg-13 edge on the boards over its past two games. Ryan Anderson has shot 27 percent over the Pelicans last three, and both he and Anthony Davis expect it to take time for this team to re-integrate its recently healed talents. “You’ve got to build some chemistry back,” Anderson said.
Davis is averaging a team-high 23.5 points per game to go with 10.7 rebounds and 4.0 blocks/steals per game while posting a 25.5 PER. By all accounts he is holding up his end of the bargain, even if he is shooting slightly under 50 percent from the floor. His defensive presence is the only thing holding New Orleans together with the frequent penetration it has allowed.
Davis and Evans are playing the best ball, but the biggest surprise has been point guard Ish Smith. Smith is averaging 7.7 assists per game to rank in the top-5 of the NBA while scoring 11.4 points and shooting 32 percent from three.
The Pelicans will roll with Ish because he is a great playmaker, which saves Norris Cole for the role of sixth man. Jrue Holiday has been relegated to a second unit role player in posting 11 points and 4.5 assists per game. Once healthy, this Pelican team sports plenty of depth at the guard spots and even has a serviceable backup in Alexis Ajinca behind Davis. It is a playoff team that just has not looked like one, and the only question is whether the Pels are going to be a case of too little, too late, after beginning in such a funk and so shorthanded this young season.