After running through the San Antonio Spurs in a short five-game series, the Golden State Warriors moved onto the second round of the 2018 NBA playoffs. They’ll face a New Orleans Pelicans team that is fresh off a shocking sweep of the third seeded Portland Trail Blazers.
Dating back to the regular season, New Orleans has rattled off nine straight victories. Led by one of the game’s best big men, the Pelicans are on a roll and looking to shake up the Western Conference playoffs.
PG: Rajon Rondo
SG: Jrue Holiday
SG: E'Twaun Moore
PF: Nikola Mirotic
C: Anthony Davis
Alvin Gentry turned to a three-guard set throughout the second half of the season, but that’s a scary proposition against the big wings of the Warriors. The addition of Mirotic at the deadline opens the spacing for the Pelican’s guards to maneuver and Davis had an MVP-caliber seasons, especially after the loss of DeMarcus Cousins to injury.
PG: Ian Clark
SF: Darius Miller
SF: Solomon Hill
PF: Cheick Diallo
C: Emeka Okafor
During the first round against Portland, Gentry relied heavily on his starting group, playing four players 35 minutes or more per game. Clark, who knows the Warriors well after spending the last two seasons with Golden State, was the only reserve to log 20 minutes a night. Miller, Hill and Diallo will all see action in round two as the Pelicans attempt to slow Kevin Durant at the wing. 35-year-old Emeka Okafor saw just four minutes of action against Portland.
New Orleans came into the season with two giants in the post. Once Cousins went down with a ruptured Achilles, Gentry had no choice but to turn up the speed. With three point guards in the starting lineup, the Pelicans finished the season leading the league in pace, averaging 100.5 possessions per 48 minutes.
The Pelicans score with the best of them, posting the league’s third best point per game output at 111.3 points per game. They move the ball extremely well, handing out 26.8 dimes a night, but they rank 22nd in the league in turnovers at 14.8 per game.
Throughout the first 48 games of the season, Cousins led the team in 3-point attempts, hoisting 6.1 per game. Once he left the lineup, Mirotic instantly filled that role, attempting 6.6 shots from three each night in a Pelicans uniform. During their four game sweep of the Blazers,
Gentry’s reliance on his starting unit has yielded strong results. Against Portland, Davis averaged 33 points and 11.8 rebounds per game to pace the Pelicans. Holiday was right behind him at 27.8 points and 6.1 assists. Mirotic shot 46.2 percent from deep on his way to 18.3 points per game and Rondo took over the game as a passer, posting 11.3 points and 13.3 assists.
On the defensive end, the Pelicans are a work in progress. They allowed 110.4 points per game during the regular season, which ranked 29th in the league. But a lot of that was due to the pace they played at. New Orleans posted a defensive rating of 108.3, which ranked 14th in the league, which puts them in the middle of the pack in the NBA.
New Orleans ranked third in the league in both defensive rebounding and blocked shots, and eighth in steals with eight per game. They force 14.5 turnovers per game and hold their opponents to 45.4 percent shooting from the field (ninth best in the NBA).
On the downside, the Pelicans allow 30.6 3-pointers per game and they give up a ton of offensive rebounds. If the Warriors get hot from the perimeter, it could be lights out pretty quick.
Davis is a defensive anchor that can do it all. The 24-year-old big averaged 2.6 blocks and 1.5 steals per game throughout the regular season and he’s found a new level in the playoffs. Holiday played incredible defense against the Blazers high-scoring guards in the first round, but he’s undersized in his matchup up against Klay Thompson.
Where the Pelicans will really be tested is at the small forward position where Durant has a huge advantage in both size and skill.
The Pelicans are cruising, but the Warriors are a proven winner. All it takes is a Game 1 victory to stymie New Orleans’ momentum and put them on their heels.
This is the first time in Davis’ career that he’s made it out of the first round. Rondo has championship experience, but his only title came a decade ago. His 96 games of playoff experience coming into this season was more than his entire team combined.
New Orleans is an underdog coming into this series, but they weren’t picked to win the first round either and they ran over Portland. This is a gritty group that loves to attack the rim and they are unselfish. Davis is a superstar and a bad matchup for the Warriors bigs.