Behind the Numbers: Pelicans at Pacers (11/20/21)

A look at three key numbers related to Saturday’s game at Gainbridge Fieldhouse between New Orleans and Indiana (6 p.m. Central, Bally Sports New Orleans, 100.3 FM):

1: Lone NBA player who officially qualifies for the league’s three-point percentage leaders and has made more than half of his attempts from beyond the arc in 2021-22. Shockingly to some around the NBA, that man is Jonas Valanciunas, who stands alone with a success rate of 55.3 percent, having connected on 21 of his 38 tries. The native of Lithuania produced a career-best perimeter-shooting performance Friday in a home win against the Clippers, sinking five treys out of nine attempts. New Orleans’ center is off to such a hot start that even if he misses his next five three-point looks, he’d still have a higher percentage than the NBA’s current runner-up, Brooklyn’s Patty Mills (48.0). Valanciunas was solid from distance last season with Memphis at 36.8 percent, but this season he’s already matched the same number of made trifectas (21) as he did in 2020-21, but in 19 fewer attempts.

16.7, 9.7: Scoring and rebounding average for Josh Hart over the past three games, marking one of the premier stretches of his five-year NBA career. Hart has been instrumental in New Orleans posting consecutive home victories, with a plus-11 on-court differential in both games against the Grizzlies and Clippers. After handing out a career-high 11 assists vs. Memphis last weekend, the Villanova product is also averaging 6.0 assists in the last four games. Hart has never averaged more than 2.9 assists per 36 minutes in any previous season, but in 2021-22 he’s putting up 4.4 dimes per 36. Speaking of plus-minus from New Orleans forwards, Herbert Jones was a plus-17 vs. the Clippers on Friday, despite going scoreless himself, a rare single-game statistical feat.

22:53: The most playing time any Indiana starter received during Friday’s 121-118 loss at Charlotte. The Pacers’ first unit was dominated by the Hornets, including four Indiana regulars carrying a plus-minus of negative 15 or worse, which led first-year head coach Rick Carlisle to go to his bench; the reserves totaled 78 points and nearly caught Charlotte after the visitors had fallen behind big. As a result, Pacers starters should have relatively fresher legs Saturday than those of the Pelicans, who needed three starters (Valanciunas, Hart, Brandon Ingram) to log 35-plus minutes vs. the Clippers.   

PREVIOUS GAME STARTING LINEUPS

NEW ORLEANS (3-14)

Friday win vs. LA Clippers

Tomas Satoransky, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Josh Hart, Brandon Ingram, Jonas Valanciunas

Notes: This group is 1-0 after Satoransky made his first start as a Pelican. Point guard Devonte’ Graham (foot soreness) was sidelined Friday for the first time this season. Satoransky (25:25) and backup Kira Lewis Jr. (22:35) split the available PG minutes Friday, never on the floor at the same time. … New Orleans is trying to snap a six-game road losing streak, having last prevailed in an away game Oct. 25 at Minnesota.

INDIANA (6-11)

Friday loss at Charlotte

Malcolm Brogdon, Caris LeVert, Chris Duarte, Domantas Sabonis, Myles Turner

Notes: This group is 2-1, beating New York and Philadelphia by margins of 13 and five points, prior to Friday’s three-point loss to Charlotte. … Indiana continues to battle injuries to key players, a big reason the Pacers have used six different starting lineups, including none more than seven times. … Sabonis, Turner, Justin Holiday (nine starts), T.J. McConnell (five) and Torrey Craig have played in all 17 games this season.

FANDUEL KEYS TO THE GAME

MORE LOCKDOWN DEFENSE

The Pelicans hope their defensive performance Friday vs. the Clippers wasn’t just an outlier. LA shot only 38 percent from the field and 24 percent on three-pointers, while attempting only five free throws. One night of stinginess moved New Orleans out of last place in defensive rating (now 111.8), replaced by Memphis (112.1). Indiana ranks 15th in offensive efficiency.

POINT GUARDS STEPPING UP

Lewis played his best game of 2021-22 last night against the Clippers, delivering a season-best 16 points, along with four rebounds, four assists and three steals. That was critical production with Graham a DNP. If Graham can’t play Saturday, Lewis and Satoransky again will be needed to lead the offense.

MATCHUP TO WATCH

At center, Valanciunas vs. Turner is a battle of bigs who can stretch defenses with their three-point shooting, but also do damage in the paint, particularly for Valanciunas on offense and Turner on defense. Valanciunas is averaging a career-best 19.4 points, finding equal success inside and outside (league-best three-point percentage), while Turner leads the NBA in blocks average (3.1) for a second straight season.

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