It’s the season of giving, and the NBA just keeps on giving and giving to the Brooklyn Nets in the form of back-to-back sets. The Brooklyn Nets enter this matchup against the New Orleans Pelicans off a crushing defeat to the San Antonio Spurs just one night ago. Not to say that result was not expected, but the Nets battled for a little more than half of the night.
Meanwhile, the Pelicans are on a two-game win streak. They come into Wednesday with two victories over the Miami Heat and Orlando Magic. The more recent of the two — the game against the Heat — took place on Saturday and was captured thanks to a third quarter spurt where New Orleans went on a 13-0 run. So, the Pelicans certainly had an extended holiday and more rest than the Nets and to only add to New Orleans’ favor, Brooklyn is the visiting team this time around.
This is the first of two meetings between the teams this season, with the second to come in February. The Pelicans currently hold the eighth seed in the Western Conference, a sizable three games ahead of the ninth-place Utah Jazz. Though they certainly are not the Spurs and the Nets have had some success against another low-seeded playoff contender in the West (the Portland Trail Blazers), that does not mean the Pelicans will not be a challenge for Brooklyn.
Set the Pace Early
Things could not have been slower for the Nets on Tuesday night against the Spurs. They were not shooting particularly well, but remained within striking distance thanks to their sneaky hands and carelessness on the Spurs’ end. That’s fair and good enough for not an especially fast team in the Spurs, but the Nets have to be much quicker against New Orleans. It’s been a Brooklyn thing for a while, but the Nets rank fourth (102.77 possessions per 48 minutes) in pace, while the Pelicans rank seventh (101.83 possessions per 48 minutes).
This might be difficult considering the Nets are on the second night of a back-to-back, but it could be the deal-breaker in the end.
Amping up Defense… if Possible
Speaking of the Pelicans playing at a fast pace, this is partly due to New Orleans’ high-powered offense, as the team has been recognized for its stellar ball movement. The Pelicans rank second in the NBA in assists with 26.4 per game, just behind the Golden State Warriors (30). They are also fifth in the league in points per game, with 110.6.
Similarly to the Nets though, New Orleans gives up a heck of a lot of points to their opponents. The Pelicans rank second-to-last in that category (just ahead of the Phoenix Suns, and tied with the Orlando Magic), allowing their opponents to score 110.8 points per game. Brooklyn is not much better, ranking just above them with 110.2 opponent points per game.
Considering all these similarities, whichever team can pull out more stops on the defensive end will have the edge on Wednesday night. For the Nets, they could success if they go after the Pelicans’ ball movement.
Potential Bigs Nightmare
When one thinks of the Pelicans now, their mind might shift to the tantalizing frontcourt duo of Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins. Who could forget that trade of the century from last season?
At first glance, the Nets’ total rebounds per game could be misleading. Brooklyn ranks sixth in the NBA in rebounding with 45.3 per game, but those who follow the team know that the Nets struggle mightily against opponents with striking bigs. It’s easy for them to get exposed on the glass with the smaller Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and DeMarre Carroll leading them in that department. Sometimes, the Nets do a decent job against bigger teams, like they did against the Spurs (they out-rebounded San Antonio 45-43), but that is usually not the case. Just look at what happened against Indiana (on December 17), Sacramento and Toronto.
And, the Pelicans might be the toughest test yet in that regard. Davis and Cousins both average rebounds in the double digits, for a combined 22.5 per game. How well the likes of Hollis-Jefferson, Carroll, Tyler Zeller and Jarrett Allen match up against the Davis-Cousins powerhouse, could be the determining factor. (Just on paper, that already does not sound ideal.)