PREVIEW: Pelicans at Rockets- March 17

Mar 14, 2023; New Orleans, Louisiana, USA; New Orleans Pelicans guard CJ McCollum (3) talks to forward Brandon Ingram (14) against the Los Angeles Lakers during the second half at Smoothie King Center. Mandatory Credit: Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

PREVIEW: Pelicans at Rockets- March 17

The Rockets will take another shot at their first three-game winning streak of the season when they host the New Orleans Pelicans at Toyota Center on Friday night in the fourth game of a six-game homestand. With Wednesday’s win over the Lakers, the Rockets have won back-to-back games for the fifth time all season, but they are 0-4 when trying for the elusive third win, with a 22-point loss to Brooklyn nine days ago in their last attempt.

Eye on the Pelicans

Record: 33-36 (T-11th in Western Conference)

Offensive rating (rank): 113.1 (21st)

Defensive rating (rank): 112.6 (9th)

The Pelicans improved to 24-14 when they beat the Rockets 119-108 on Jan. 4, and not only did it seem like they were a lock to make the Western Conference Playoffs, it looked as if they could compete for the No. 1 seed, but the Pelicans are 9-22 since that game and find themselves on the outside of the play-in tournament. What’s changed for New Orleans in that span? Zion Williamson suffered a hamstring strain 48 hours before that game against the Rockets, and he hasn’t played since. Williamson was averaging 26 points on 61% shooting this season before he got hurt, and the Pelicans simply haven’t been able to replace him.

Matchup to watch: Jabari Smith Jr. vs. Brandon Ingram

After missing a couple of games with a sprained ankle, Ingram scored 22 points against the Lakers in a loss on Tuesday night. Like Williamson, Ingram has had trouble staying on the floor this season, with a toe injury forcing him to miss 29 games earlier this season. The Pelicans forward has been limited to 32 games this season and has failed to eclipse the 62-game mark since his rookie campaign, but when he does play, Ingram is an offensive force. The 25-year-old is averaging 23 points per game this season while shooting 47% from the field and 39% from behind the 3-point line. Ingram missed the January game between the Rockets and Pelicans, but Eric Gordon drew the Ingram assignment when he played in November. Gordon is gone, and with Kevin Porter likely to be matched up with C.J. McCollum, expect Smith, who has been given the tough assignments since Gordon’s departure, to get tasked with guarding Ingram.

What I’m watching for

The Rockets are just playing out the string over the final 13 games of the season, but almost all the teams they are playing against have something to play for. The Pelicans enter Friday’s game .5 games back of Oklahoma City and the Lakers for the final play-in spot, which gives the Rockets an opportunity to play spoiler, a role they are embracing.

“We didn’t have the year that we want it when it comes to the record,” Porter said Wednesday. “But I feel like we’ve been learning, and every game, each game, even though we didn’t win as much as we probably should, you can see that we have fight and we definitely want to spoil some guys (season).”

After playing New Orleans twice, the Rockets will host the Golden State Warriors on Monday, a team that holds a one-game lead for sixth in the West. Of the 13 games the Rockets have left on the schedule, only two will be against teams currently out of the postseason picture.

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