New Orleans Pelicans: Keys to marquee matchup vs. Celtics

Jayson Tatum #0 of the Boston Celtics is defended by Jose Alvarado #15 of the New Orleans Pelicans ] (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)
Jayson Tatum #0 of the Boston Celtics is defended by Jose Alvarado #15 of the New Orleans Pelicans ] (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images) /

The New Orleans Pelicans will take on the Boston Celtics tonight in a battle of two of the NBA’s hottest teams.

The Celtics have won eight in a row and sit alone atop the Eastern Conference behind MVP-caliber play from Jayson Tatum.

The Pelicans have won three straight and moved up to 5th in the crowded West, getting contributions from different guys every night, including a resurgent CJ McCollum.

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This would be a statement win for the New Orleans Pelicans, as the Celtics are legit title contenders and playing their best basketball of the season so far. Here are three keys to the game.

New Orleans Pelicans: Will Zion Williamson play against the Celtics?

Zion Williamson is still listed as questionable for tonight’s game against Boston, though the Pelicans have played well so far without him.

But the Celtics are missing their main rim protector, so this is a game where the Pelicans could use his points in the paint. The Pels aren’t going to rush him back, as this is a long season and they want him healthy when it matters, but Zion would give New Orleans an edge down low tonight against the smaller Celtics.

The battle of the 3-point line

Both the Pelicans and Celtics can score the ball as they are 5th and 2nd in points per game, respectively.

But they do it in very different ways, as Boston shoots a ton of 3-point shots while the Pels get most of their points in the mid-range or paint.

The Celtics are 4th in 3-point percentage and 1st in points per game from 3-point shots. They are second in attempts, so this is a team that likes to let it fly from long range.

The Pelicans are 2nd in the NBA in opponent’s 3-point percentage and 9th in 3-pointers allowed, so if they can make the Celtics take tough shots and keep them in check from 3-point range, I like their chances.

New Orleans can shoot them as well, as they are 5th in 3-point percentage overall but 29th in attempts. They shot more in wins over Memphis and Chicago, so this game could come down to who does a better job defending the 3-point line, especially if Zion doesn’t play.

The battle of the benches

On paper, this is a battle the Pelicans should win, especially if Malcolm Brogdon is still out for the Celtics. We know that Tatum and Brown are going to get theirs, so it’s imperative that the Pels not allow their bench to get going as well.

The Pels have been getting big contributions from Larry Nance Jr. and Jose Alvarado and Willie Green has been deploying them well in the recent 3-game winning streak.  The Pels’ second unit needs to keep Hauser and Pritchard from getting going from long range and to force mismatches on the other end while pushing the pace every time they get the chance.

This is a game that the length of Dyson Daniels and Naji Marshall off the bench should be an advantage against a Celtics’ bench that relies on outside shooting. The Pels’ bench needs to be aggressive defensively and get out and run when they can.

If the New Orleans Pelicans can keep the Celtics honest from 3-point range and dominate the battle of the benches, I like their chances tonight against Boston even if Zion Williamson doesn’t play.

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