GAME PREVIEW (via STATS LLC)
The New Orleans Pelicans have not strayed too far from mediocrity this season, but heading into a long road trip, they'll hope to finally distance themselves from .500 and make a push in the ultra-competitive Western Conference.
That quest begins Monday night when New Orleans takes on the struggling Boston Celtics.
All five games of the road swing come against Eastern teams, including three of the conference's four worst (Boston, Philadelphia, New York). Coach Monty Williams hopes the upcoming light schedule can spark a hot spell for the Pelicans (18-18), who have stayed within two games of .500 this entire season.
New Orleans, though, is 0-6 on the road against the inferior East.
"Our guys are looking forward to this trip, not only so that we can separate ourselves from .500, but also it's good to get away and play some good teams on the road," Williams said. "If we have to make adjustments, we will."
New Orleans picked up a quality win before hitting the road, downing Memphis 106-95 on Friday. Jrue Holiday led the way with 23 points, eight assists and two steals in his fifth game without a turnover this season. The Pelicans are 6-1 when committing 10 or fewer turnovers, but are just 4-8 in contests with 14 or more giveaways.
Tyreke Evans, Ryan Anderson and Anthony Davis all scored at least 20. Evans had 21 points, 10 rebounds and five assists in his first game after volunteering to go to the bench to help that unit's cohesion.
Evans and the Pelicans could see a familiar face on Monday after New Orleans reportedly traded Austin Rivers to Boston (12-23) as part of a three-team deal that saw the Celtics ship leading scorer Jeff Green to Memphis. The trade is expected to be announced Monday morning.
Boston, which will also get Tayshaun Prince and a future first-rounder from Memphis, has lost both games since pulling Green from the rotation with the trade in the works. A night after falling 107-103 at Indiana in overtime, the Celtics were outscored 90-70 over the final three quarters Saturday in a 109-96 loss at Toronto.
THREE THINGS TO WATCH (via Chris Forsberg)
• Fear the Brow: The last time the Celtics saw the Pelicans, Anthony Davis put up 40 points and a career-high 21 rebounds during an overtime win last March. Boston's frontcourt is in for a monster challenge in limiting Davis at both ends of the floor. Davis is averaging 23.9 points, 10.5 rebounds, and 2.9 blocks per game this season.
• Pelicans in focus: The Pelicans own the seventh best offensive rating in the league (105.9 points per 100 possessions). Part of that success comes from limiting turnovers (sixth in the league in turnover rate). Over the past 10 games, the Pelicans have actually slipped a bit on offense, but their defense has improved in that stretch.
• Finding their way: With the Green trade set to become official on Monday, the Celtics' focus remains on the development of its youngest players, who must shoulder a larger load now given the recent departures. Boston might struggle to win games, but the focus has to be on progress for a young core.