Behind the Numbers: Pelicans at Cavaliers (1/16/2023)

A look at three key numbers related to Monday’s game in Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse between New Orleans and Cleveland (2 pm Central, Bally Sports New Orleans, WRNO 99.5 FM):

3, 5: Rank among the 30 NBA teams in net rating for Cleveland and New Orleans, respectively. The Cavaliers and Pelicans may not immediately spring to mind when analysts discuss potential title contenders – partly due to their youth and relative inexperience – but from a statistical standpoint, Cleveland and New Orleans possess many of the signifiers of elite squads. The Cavaliers are the league’s second-best defensive team (109.3 points allowed per 100 possessions), while the Pelicans are fifth (110.8). New Orleans is also sixth offensively (114.8 points per 100 possessions); Cleveland is closer to the middle of the pack at that end of the floor (13th at 113.8), but its excellence on defense lifts the Central Division member to a net rating of plus-4.5 (only Boston’s 6.6 and Memphis’ 5.3 are better) . Dominance at home is another trait shared by Cleveland (18-4, best in the Eastern Conference) and New Orleans (17-5, tied with Golden State for third in the West).

2, 14: Another striking similarity between New Orleans and Cleveland? Both franchises are currently spearheaded by a prolific guard who arrived via trade and was a major reason behind their previous team’s success in the West. Cleveland’s Donovan Mitchell ranks second in the NBA among all players in scoring average in January (33.2 ppg, highlighted by a 71-point outing Jan. 2 vs. Chicago), after coming to the Cavaliers in an offseason deal from Utah. New Orleans’ CJ McCollum is 14th in January scoring average (28.8 ppg, topped by a 38-point outburst at Boston on Wednesday), making his way to the Crescent City by virtue of a February 2022 trade from Portland. Both veteran guards are top-five in three-point makes this month, with McCollum second in the NBA at 4.3 per game (trailing only Klay Thompson’s 5.8); Mitchell is fifth at 3.8.

10-7: New Orleans record vs. the East this season, putting the Pelicans on pace to post a winning record in interconference games for the first time in five years. New Orleans went just 11-19 against the East last season, meaning the Pelicans could already equal that win total Monday. NOLA went 13-17 in that category in 2020-21; 12-12 during the COVID-shortened ’19-20 campaign; 10-20 in ’18-19. On paper, the remaining East schedule is favorable, partly because the Pelicans already wrapped up their season series against current No. 1 Boston (went 0-2), No. 2 Brooklyn (1-1) and No. 4 Philadelphia (1-1). After Monday’s game at Cleveland, six of the dozen East contests left will be against teams currently sporting losing records (four of those matchups are in the Smoothie King Center).

Previous Game Starting Lineups

NEW ORLEANS (26-17, 3RD IN WEST)

CJ McCollum, Dyson Daniels, Trey Murphy, Naji Marshall, Jonas Valanciunas

Notes: This group is 1-1, with the loss occurring Wednesday at Boston. … Daniels is 6-1 as a starter in his rookie season. … All four Week 14 games for the Pelicans are against the East, including Wednesday and Sunday meetings with Miami, sandwiched around a Friday game at Orlando. … The two-game season series against Cleveland wraps up Feb. 10 in Louisiana. That 9 pm Central contest will be broadcast on ESPN and is the final Pelicans home game prior to the All-Star break.

CLEVELAND (27-17, 5TH IN EAST)

Saturday loss at Minnesota

Darius Garland, Donovan Mitchell, Isaac Okoro, Evan Mobley, Jarrett Allen

Notes: This group is 5-3. The Cavaliers have a separate lineup that is 7-3 and has Lamar Stevens at small forward instead of Okoro. … Cleveland could move up to fourth in the standings late Sunday night if Philadelphia (26-16) loses at the Lakers. … The Cavs have gone exactly 12-8 both with Caris LeVert as a starter and a reserve (3-1 when he’s a DNP). … Cleveland has the NBA’s ninth-best clutch record (16-11), slightly ahead of 10th-place NOLA (11-8) in winning percentage.

RISING STARS
The future looks very bright for these two franchises, due to a vast array of young talent. For New Orleans, Murphy, Jose Alvarado and Herb Jones (listed as questionable to play Monday) are second-year impact players, while Daniels is a promising rookie. Cleveland’s Mobley is tops in rebounding among all Year 2 players and second in blocks, as well as seventh in scoring. Garland and Allen are also under-age-25 standouts.

CONTAIN THE CAVS
New Orleans must be “on guard” defensively against the Cavs and one of the NBA’s premier backcourts. Mitchell and Garland combine to average 49.9 points per game this season, with both shooting a fraction under 40 percent from three-point range. Cleveland is 8-3 when Garland scores at least 22 points; oddly, one of the losses was Nov. 13 vs. Minnesota when Garland rang up 51 points and sank 10 three-pointers.

MATCHUP TO WATCH
At center, Valanciunas was an absolute beast Friday at Detroit (33 points, 16 rebounds), with the Pistons having no healthy frontcourt options to try to slow down the Lithuanian in the paint. Allen is one of the NBA’s most feared defensive bigs due to his athleticism, length and timing. Allen and fellow Cavs starting big Mobley both rank in the league’s top 20 in blocks.

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