Two teams that could lead the NBA’s Southwest Division this season get their seasons started today. The New Orleans Pelicans will attempt to upset the Houston Rockets in Houston (8pm ET Wednesday on ESPN).
New Orleans’ roster is pretty similar to last season, when it won 48 games and a playoff series. The Pelicans’ big move was adding big man Julius Randle in free agency. Randle had a breakout season with the Lakers last season and should make a great impact for New Orleans whether he starts or comes off the bench.
Houston keeps a core of James Harden, Chris Paul, Clint Capela and P.J. Tucker, but there are plenty of new faces around them that may not quite have enough to get the team to 65 wins again. Carmelo Anthony and James Ennis are the two forwards who will attempt to replace the value of Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute. Michael Carter-Williams, Marquese Chriss and Brandon Knight are also new and could play rotation roles occasionally, as well.
The Rockets are still the better team in this matchup, but a Pelicans win is certainly not out of the question. This preview will go into the fine detail of the matchup before giving our New Orleans Pelicans vs Houston Rockets predictions and betting picks.
Can P.J. Tucker Keep Up His Preseason Excellence?
The Rockets’ three most important players are Harden, Paul and Capela. Harden and Paul are scoring and passing wizards, while Capela defends, rebounds and finishes at the rim very well.
Don’t forget Tucker, the power forward does thankless tasks like boxing out, defending a variety of players and spacing the floor. He is a player whose value can’t be properly captured by a traditional stat sheet.
In the preseason, though, Tucker also provided help in the box score. He averaged 16 points per game (compared to 6.1 last regular season) and knocked down 10 out of 24 three-pointers in just three games for a 41.7 percent success rate.
Remember, the Rockets are probably only expecting Tucker to be the sixth or seventh leading scorer on this roster. Points aren’t usually his forte. However, if Houston’s glue guy can continue to give the team around 16 points per night, the Rockets will be in fantastic shape offensively.
Will Anthony Davis Be Aggressive When the Rockets Switch Smaller Players on Him?
Davis might be the best player in this matchup. It’s between him and James Harden. However, he is certainly the best big man who will be playing in the contest.
However, the player who will likely get the start on him defensively, Clint Capela, is no slouch at all. The 24-year-old center was a Most Improved Player candidate a year ago and is quickly improving on both ends of the floor.
The Rockets switch a lot on defense, though, so there will be a lot of occasions where Davis has someone else on him. In particularly, he needs to be aggressive when he has point guards or wings on him.
Davis’ teammates will also need to be looking for him in these situations, whether it’s hitting him with high-low or alley-oop passes, or just simply dumping it to him in the post.
Will Nikola Mirotic or Julius Randle Be the Game’s Best Bench Player?
The Pelicans’ starting lineup is not set in stone. The team has already stated that it will tweak the lineup depending on the matchup. The team has three very good big men who deserve to start (Anthony Davis, Nikola Mirotic and Julius Randle), but it would be foolish to start all three given their skill sets. Likely, it will be just Davis and one of the other two guys starting most of the time.
Whether it’s Mirotic or Randle coming off the bench, one of them needs to assert himself as the clear best bench player in the game. For how amazing the Rockets are as an entire team, their bench is just decent. There is an opportunity for one of the Pelicans’ reserve big men to change the complexion of the game with a big boost off the bench.
The top competitors for “best bench player” on Houston are Eric Gordon and Carmelo Anthony. The Pelicans will also have to make sure neither of those guys go off, particularly from the three-point line.
Our Preview’s New Orleans Pelicans vs. Houston Rockets Betting Picks & Predictions
The Rockets do have an edge in this matchup. The question is, by how much? They’re working in some key new pieces and will want to make sure new potential rotation guys like Carmelo Anthony, James Ennis, Marquese Chriss and Michael Carter-Williams fit in.
The Pelicans also have some adjusting to do. New guard Elfrid Payton is still trying to find his niche, but he was solid in the preseason. Julius Randle and Jahlil Okafor also could use some more time before they really feel comfortable.
Considering how rough the Pelicans looked in preseason, losing all five of their games, I’d say they need some more time to find their rhythm together.
- Houston is marked as a 7.5-point favorite with nearly all the major US-facing betting outlets. The first of this preview’s predictions is to bet on the Rockets -7.5pts @ -110 with one of the following sportsbooks: Bovada, 5Dimes, Intertops, Bookmaker.
- The new shot clock rule after offensive rebounds and a changing offensive style league-wide caused a lot of fast-paced basketball in the preseason. Both the Pelicans and Rockets are eager to score in transition, and the excitement of the first game of the season will keep the pace high. Bet the over 228.5pts @ -110 with 5Dimes or Bookmaker.
Jared is a lifelong sports fan and writer whose specialist subject is NBA. A 2015 graduate of Indiana Wesleyan University, with a bachelor’s degree in journalism, Jared has been a sought-after freelance sports writer. In addition to his valuable USA Betting contributions, he has also written for other top media outlets.