Houston Rockets at New Orleans Pelicans Preview
James Harden and the Houston Rockets will travel to New Orleans for a divisional matchup against Brandon Ingram and the struggling Pelicans on Monday night.
The Rockets come into the contest with a record of 6-3. They are first in the Southwest Division and locked in a five-way tie for the third-best record in the Western Conference. The Pelicans, 2-7 are tied for the worst record in the division and sit in the 13th spot in the West.
Houston’s last game was a 117-94 beat down of the Chicago Bulls. They were down by seven points after the first quarter as their offense seemed stagnant. Things would turn around from there, as they scored 30 or more in each remaining quarter and held the Bulls to 4-for-32 shooting from the 3-point line. For the Pelicans, their last game was a 115-110 victory over the Charlotte Hornets on Saturday.
Time: 8 PM ET
Arena: Smoothie King Center, New Orleans, LA
Channel: ATTSN-SW, FSNO
Rockets: Gerald Green (O), Nene Hilario (Q)
Pelicans: Lonzo Ball (Q), Darius Miller (O), Zion Williamson (O)
Houston Rockets Starting Lineup
Houston holding an opponent below 100 points is becoming a rarity this season, and by rarity I mean it happened for the first time in their game against the Bulls. The Rockets defense was good, but the key to the game was the offensive barrage James Harden let off. The superstar guard shot 2-for-7 in the first quarter but went 10-for-20 from the field and 8-for-14 on 3s the rest of the way.
“That’s the confidence I have,” Harden said. “That’s the confidence that I’ve built off of the work I put in. It’s more of a mindset.”
Harden finished with a stat line of 42 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists, just missing his first-triple double of the season. Russell Westbrook scored 26 points and Clint Capela grabbed 20 rebounds.
The Russ and Harden pairing has been fun to watch, on the offensive end. Despite the Rockets coming into this matchup winners of three straight, I think their defensive struggles should start concerning their fans at this point. The numbers are alarming (22nd in defensive efficiency and 26th in opponent points per game). Opposing guards are blowing past Russ and Harden has appeared to revert back to the Harden of three years ago, losing sight of his man and seeming disinterested on the defensive side of the ball. Not to mention Capela has struggled to make a consistent impact in the interior.
Opponents score 21.6 points off turnovers (28th), 16.9 points off of fastbreaks (27th) and 52.2 points in the paint (26th) against Houston, per NBA.com advanced stats. Their matchup, the Pelicans play at the second-fastest pace in the league. They thrive on pushing the tempo off of a make or a miss. The Rockets have to clean up their defense or outgunning New Orleans is their only chance tonight.
Watching Westbrook push the tempo for the Rockets has been entertaining, and ultimately I believe the Rockets will be fine, but in order for them to be a team with hopes of making it out of the Western Conference, they are going to need better defensive effort from their superstar duo.
New Orleans Pelicans Starting Lineup
The Pelicans come into this matchup after only their second win of the season. New Orleans shot the ball well–53 percent from the field and 42 percent on 3s, but they turned the ball over 26 times. Head coach Alvin Gentry’s team has struggled all season with turnovers, they turn the ball over 18 times per game, which is the fifth most in the NBA.
“I just thought we turned the ball over way too much, we’ve got to get better in that department right there. And they’re careless turnovers,” Gentry said.
Brandon Ingram, who has been exceptional this season, scored 25 points and grabbed nine rebounds. JJ Redick had 22 points on five made 3-pointers and Jrue Holiday added 12 points and 11 assists.
New Orleans was dealt a tough hand before the season started. Their prized no. 1 overall pick Zion Williamson had to have surgery for a meniscus injury and just like that their small chance at fighting for the final playoff spot in the West was gone.
The turnovers have been a serious problem for the Pelicans, but the biggest culprit for their struggles has been their defense. They allow the most points in the league (122.4) and sit at 28th in defensive efficiency (113.1). We might honestly see a combined scoreline upwards of 280 in this one.
Key Player Matchups
Josh Hart vs. James Harden
The Rockets won the first matchup of the season against New Orleans 126-123 on Oct. 26. The most memorable moment from that game? Harden accidentally hitting himself in the face with the basketball in a fit of frustration. Josh Hart’s reaction was wonderful, and he even reenacted the blunder when his team played the Thunder a week later. I’m going to guess that Harden not only saw the clip of him being mimicked but also that he has every intention of trying to embarrass Hart whenever they are matched up. 40-point Harden triple-double incoming.
Jrue Holiday vs. Russell Westbrook
Holiday is criminally underrated. He’s one of the five best defensive guards in the league and players still feel the need to try and get fancy with their dribble around him. Westbrook is big enough to ward off Holiday if he needs to, but Russ is still averaging 4.4 turnovers per game and shooting a disastrous 23 percent on 3s. So, basically feeding right into Holiday’s defensive specialties. I’d like to see the Rockets go against their nature and run more pick-and-rolls (they are 29th in the league in pick-and-roll frequency) to force the Pelicans into some switches and let Westbrook attack a mismatch.
Brandon Ingram vs. Danuel House
Brandon Ingram has been playing like a man who is finally free. The former no. 2 overall pick is averaging career-highs across the board: points (25.9), rebounds (7.3), shot attempts (18.0), 3-point attempts (5.4), field goal percentage (53 percent) and 3-point percentage (47 percent). He’s a legitimate candidate for the NBA’s Most Improved Player award. I’m going to watch this matchup closely because Danuel House has shown more confidence this season, and despite playing on one of the worst defensive teams in the league he’s giving a lot of effort and has shown the willingness to guard every kind of player in the league from point guards to forwards.
No surprise here, but James Harden is your star pickup from this matchup. Harden fills every statistical category you could want. He’s available for $12k on FanDuel with his projected fantasy points set at 51.5. Staying with the Rockets another fantasy superstar, Russell Westbrook is available for $9.9k on FanDuel and is projected to post a total of 46.3 fantasy points.
For the Pelicans, Jrue Holiday and Brandon Ingram are your best pickups. Holiday is going for $8.3k on FanDuel with his projected points at 39.3 and Ingram is available for $8.8k with his points set at 37.7.
Bet on Matchup
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