Pelicans make their case with defense, take on Raptors

Field Level Media

March 05, 2024 at 12:47 am.

New Orleans may be rested but the Pelicans do not intend to let the defense cruise when they visit the revamped Toronto Raptors on Tuesday night.

The Pelicans, who have not played since defeating the Indiana Pacers 129-102 on Friday, take pride in having one of the better defensive teams in the league.

That defense will provide a test for the Raptors, who held on for a 111-106 home victory over the injury-depleted Charlotte Hornets on Sunday in their first game since All-Star Scottie Barnes was sidelined indefinitely because of a fractured finger. The Raptors announced Monday that Barnes had surgery in Los Angeles to repair a fracture to the third metacarpal bone of his left hand.

The three days off in the schedule came after the Pelicans had played six games in nine days.

“The timing couldn’t be any better,” Pelicans coach Willie Green said.

After the win Friday over Indiana, the New Orleans defense ranked No. 1 in 3-point percentage allowed (34.6), second in steals (8.3 per game), fifth in fewest paint points allowed (47.1), seventh in free-throw attempts allowed (21.8) and 10th in fast-break points allowed (13.6).

“Our goals are to take away transition and easy opportunities, paint opportunities,” Green said on Sunday. “If we can take away free throws, easy baskets, paint scores, we feel like we can contest at a high rate to the 3-point line.”

Pelicans guard Herbert Jones said the defense doesn’t want to give up layups.

“I don’t think any team (defense) wants you to be in the paint,” Jones said. “We try to get out and contest a lot of the 3s we give up. I guess that’s a reason why our defense is ranked pretty high.”

The Pelicans have been using a zone defense effectively.

“We’ve been successful at it,” Green said. “It takes teams out of their rhythm and pattern, and then we can match up in that zone as well. We like what it’s doing for us and giving us a different look against our opponents, and it’s working.”

The Raptors face the prospect of playing without Barnes for a long stretch, perhaps the rest of the season.

“Scottie’s a big part of what we do, it takes a group effort to make up for what he does,” said Raptors guard Immanuel Quickley, who had 22 points, 11 assists and seven rebounds on Sunday. “It takes a lot more effort, honestly. He does so much that doesn’t show up on the stat sheet, so a lot of effort things we have to make up for, the intangible things, the extra possessions he gives us, the defensive versatility. So it’s a group effort to make that up.”

The Raptors lost Jakob Poeltl (dislocated left pinky finger) during the first half on Sunday and has been ruled out for Tuesday.

This will be a time of opportunity for some Raptors, including Ochai Agbaji. The second-year guard, who was acquired at the trade deadline from the Utah Jazz with Kelly Olynyk, made his first start for Toronto and the 33rd of his career on Sunday and had 13 points, a career-best nine rebounds and two blocked shots.

“I think it’s never taken for granted. Never taking any opportunity that I get, whether it’s five minutes, 30 minutes, whatever it is,” Agbaji said. “Just being in that position, I think is where I want to be and making the most of it is what I’m trying to do.”

Meanwhile, Olynyk signed a two-year extension through the 2025-26 season on Monday.

The Pelicans defeated the Raptors 138-100 on Feb. 5 at New Orleans with Brandon Ingram scoring 41 points.