PREVIEW: Rockets at Pelicans- Jan. 4

Nov 12, 2022; New Orleans, Louisiana, USA; Houston Rockets guard Kevin Porter Jr. (3) confront New Orleans Pelicans guard Jose Alvarado (15) and both get ejected by referee Mitchell Ervin (27) during the second half at Smoothie King Center. Mandatory Credit: Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

PREVIEW: Rockets at Pelicans- Jan. 4

The Rockets will try to avoid a fifth straight loss when they visit the New Orleans Pelicans on Wednesday night. Losers of 9-of-10, the Rockets arrive in New Orleans a season-worst 17 games under .500.

Eye on the Pelicans

Record: 23-14 (3rd in Western Conference)

Offensive rating (rank): 114.7 (8th)

Defensive rating (rank): 110.3 (6th)

The Pelicans enter Wednesday night’s game after losing their last two games. They had won five in a row prior to that, which preceded a four-game losing streak, which preceded a seven-game winning streak. The Pelicans will play without leading scorers Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram. Williamson strained his hamstring on Monday, while Ingram hasn’t played since Nov. 25. C.J. McCollum will play on Wednesday, and after a slow start to the season, the Pelicans guard is averaging over 21 points per game while shooting 45.7% from behind the 3-point line.

Matchup to watch: Alperen Sengun vs. Jonas Valanciunas

The Rockets held Valanciunas to eight points on 2-of-7 shooting during their November meeting, but the Pelicans had Williamson and Ingram that night. With those two unavailable, the Pelicans will lean on their center to provide easy offense. Valanciunas is averaging 13.5 points and 9.4 rebounds per game this season while shooting 51% from the field. Only six players have more post-ups than Valanciunas this season, but his 0.893 points per post-up possession is lowest among the 13 players with at least 85 this season. Sengun and Valanciunas are very good offensive players but struggle at the defensive end of the floor. They also struggle to stay out of foul trouble, with both ranking in the top 15 in most fouls committed despite averaging less than 27 minutes per game. Whoever wins this matchup may decide who wins the game.

What I’m watching for

Kevin Porter Jr. and Jose Alvarado were ejected the last time the Rockets and Pelicans played, and no one irritates opponents quite like the Pelicans’ second-year guard. He knows how to get under your skin, and he was a big reason why Porter committed a season-high seven turnovers. Porter’s ability to keep his composure when Alvarado goes into his bag of annoying tricks will be paramount.

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