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Behind the Numbers: Pelicans vs. Spurs (8/9/20)

A look at three key numbers related to Sunday’s game in Orlando between New Orleans and San Antonio (2 p.m. Central, Fox Sports New Orleans, 100.3 FM, ABC):

2.5, 1: Entering Sunday’s slate, the number of games New Orleans (30-39) trails eighth-place Memphis (33-37) and ninth-place Portland (32-39), respectively. All three teams are in action Sunday, beginning with the Grizzlies facing Toronto at 1 p.m. Central. Any Grizzlies win or Pelicans loss will make it impossible for New Orleans to make up that aforementioned deficit of 2.5 games, as both clubs only have three games remaining. Meanwhile, any combination of two Trail Blazers wins or Pelicans losses would ensure Portland of finishing ahead of New Orleans, partly because the Blazers will prevail in any standings deadlock, due to a tiebreaking advantage based on overall winning percentage. Portland meets Philadelphia at 5:30 p.m. Sunday on NBA TV.

If New Orleans goes 3-0 the rest of the way, it will automatically finish ahead of San Antonio (30-38) and Sacramento (29-40), its next two opponents. A 3-0 New Orleans finish would push the Pelicans ahead of Phoenix (31-39) unless the Suns also go 3-0, which would give the NBA campus’ biggest surprise team a perfect 8-0 mark in seeding games.

3: San Antonio’s rank in offensive efficiency among the 22 teams invited to Orlando, despite playing without 2019-20 second-leading scorer LaMarcus Aldridge, who is out for the season due to shoulder surgery. In Aldridge’s absence, the Spurs have used a collective effort to put up big scoring numbers, including topping 119 points four times out of five seeding games. San Antonio also ranks third in three-point shooting percentage during the restart, connecting on 41.7 percent of its attempts (only Portland at 45.4 and the Clippers at 44.1 have shot better). Seven different Spurs are averaging 10-plus points over their five games, led by shooting guard Derrick White at 21.8 and multi-time All-Star wing DeMar DeRozan at 20.4. The most surprising name in the seven-player group is rookie Keldon Johnson, who is averaging 11.2 points and has made six of his 10 three-point attempts. Johnson only appeared in nine of San Antonio’s 63 games prior to the NBA’s mid-March shutdown. He’s played more than 21 minutes in all five Orlando games, after never doing so prior to the trip to Central Florida.

+37, +36: Aggregate plus-minus in the five seeding games for New Orleans reserves Nicolo Melli and Frank Jackson, respectively, the two best among the entire Pelicans roster. During the stretch from Zion Williamson’s Jan. 22 debut through mid-March, the New Orleans starting lineup regularly outscored opponents and rang up excellent plus-minus numbers, but recently the second unit has generated better results. Melli had struggled to locate his shooting touch in Orlando prior to Friday’s 4/5 performance vs. Washington, but he still was plus-8, plus-6, plus-6, minus-1 and plus-18 in the five games, with his only negative coming Thursday vs. Sacramento. Jackson also registered a positive plus-minus in all but the Sacramento game, highlighted by a whopping plus-30 against the Wizards. The Duke product has logged 20-minutes just 13 times in this regular season, but three of them have come since Aug. 1.

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