Three key numbers that relate to Sunday’s game at Toyota Center in New Orleans and Houston (6:00 p.m. Central; Bally Sports New Orleans; ESPN Radio New Orleans 100.3 FM).
10 New Orleans will be in the Western Conference Standings if they win Sunday. This is a position that was impossible to achieve after the Pelicans started the season 3-16. New Orleans is now 17-16 and has gained significant ground over teams like No. 10 Portland (11-25 in the same period, the NBA’s worst record since Nov. 24, No. 12 San Antonio (16-22), and No. 13 Sacramento (14-23). Houston has been noticeably improved since Nov. 24, when it went 14-21, after starting its season at an all-league worst 1-16. New Orleans (20-32) is in a virtual tie against Portland (21-33) but the Trail Blazers officially list ahead of the Pelicans because their winning percentage is.004 higher despite NOLA’s tiebreaker lead (1-0 head-tohead). New Orleans will play Houston on Sunday and Tuesday before Portland plays its West Coast game against Orlando late Tuesday.
87.5 – Jaxson Hayes’ shooting percentage since becoming a starter in Cleveland three games ago. The team’s starting power forward has been averaging 15.7 point, 8.3 rebounds, and 1.7 blocks in just 30.2 minutes. This is the best week in his three-year NBA history. Hayes has made 21 of 24 field attempts, and all four of his free throws. Amazingly, Hayes has missed three shots from three-point range this week. Hayes’ thrilling win vs. Minnesota on Jan. 11 has seen him shoot a staggering 76.0 percent. This is the highest shooting percentage among NBA players who have attempted at least 50 shots. Onyeka Okongwu from Atlanta (70.3) were the only two players to reach 70 percent after at least 50 attempts.
50.7 Despite poor three-point shooting, the Pelicans are able to score at least five points per game in Week 16. New Orleans’ starting frontcourt duo of Hayes & Jonas Valanciunas (ranked 27th in NBA over this small sample) has enabled them to generate much-needed dunks and layups. Friday’s victory over the Nuggets is a perfect example of how the Pelicans are able to ride dominance around their basket to victory, despite having a deficit in the three-point category. New Orleans won the points game 58-32. However, they were outscored 57-24 in three-point baskets. The Pelicans were able to score 34 2-point shots, while the Nuggets managed just 16.
PREVIOUS GAME STARTING LINEUPS
NEW ORLEANS (20-32, 11TH IN WEST)
Friday win in Denver
Devonte’ Graham, Herbert Jones, Brandon Ingram, Jaxson Hayes, Jonas Valanciunas
Notes: TV analyst Antonio Daniels said that this group has a “hothand in a dice-game” at 2-0. This is the first time this season that the Pelicans have won consecutive road games. Josh Hart, who has been a starter 39 times this season is not listed as being able to play Sunday. Willy Hernangomez (6 starts) and Garrett Temple (16 start) are the primary reserves. They have been ruled out by safety and health protocols. It has just three games left against West teams Houston, Memphis and the Lakers. The upcoming schedule now features 18 games, with two matches each with Phoenix and Portland, as well as Sacramento.
HOUSTON (15–37, 15TH IN CENTRAL)
Friday Loss at San Antonio
Kevin Porter Jr., Jalen Green, Eric Gordon, Jae’Sean Tate, Christian Wood
Notes: This group was the more competitive of the two Houston starting lineups that were together six-plus times between 2021-22. It went 6-7. Houston’s second most popular first string is 1-12. It features Daniel Theis as the frontcourt, instead of Gordon. The Rockets have used 17 different starting lines-ups, two more than those of the Pelicans. … New Orleans was last to win a series against Houston in an eighty-two-game schedule. Willie Green was a player with the Hornets at the time. New Orleans must win the remaining three games against Houston to do so. The first two will be played in Houston on Tuesday, March 13. The second and third will be played in New Orleans.
FANDUEL KIT KEYS TO THE GOAL
GO BIG, GO HOME
New Orleans seems to have found something special with its heavy use of Valanciunas and Hayes in the jumbo lineup. The Pelicans are a different team in an era where most NBA teams are shrinking. New Orleans would gain momentum with a win Sunday, as it heads into its longest homestand, which includes six games against three of its conference rivals (Miami and Memphis), in order to be competitive.
NO LIFTOFF AT THIS TIME
Houston scored 118 points, and it played its second-most effective offensive game Dec. 5, when it beat New Orleans 10-10. It also had at least 57 points each half. Wood and Gordon scored 23 points each, while Gordon shot 8/13 from three point range. The Rockets have demonstrated throughout the season that they can generate a lot of points to win. They are 14-6 when they score at minimum 114 points and 1-31 when they don’t (they beat Oklahoma City 102 to 89 on Nov. 29 in their lone low-scoring win). New Orleans, on the other hand, has scored 114+ points just seven times (a 5-2 record). They also needed overtime twice (Dec. 17 win against Milwaukee, Dec. 8, loss to Denver).
MATCHUP TO WATCH
The 33-year-olds were selected 33 picks apart. However, Jones, a New Orleans rookie and Green, a Houston rookie are two of the first-year pros to be on your radar this season. Jones has just completed the best quarter in his short NBA career. He scored 18 points in the fourth period of Friday’s win over Denver. Green is Houston’s second-leading scorer at 14.3 ppg. Green was unable to play in the meeting with NOLA on Dec. 5. Jones was affected by foul trouble in Houston and fouled out after only 22 minutes. Jones has been much more careful since then, and has not fouled out of a single game since Dec. 15, when he had done so four times in his 27 first pro appearances.