The Western Conference-leading New Orleans Pelicans will seek to avenge themselves against the Utah Jazz for ending their seven-game winning streak on Thursday, December 15.
In an increasingly common schedule quirk, Utah will be hosting New Orleans for the second time in three days and will look to build on its 21-point win from Tuesday.
Our NBA picks and predictions for Pelicans vs. Jazz are predicting a bounce-back performance for Zion Williamson, who should have every matchup advantage in tonight’s game.
Pelicans vs Jazz best odds
Pelicans vs Jazz picks and predictions
The league has a Zion Williamson problem. The 6-foot-6 284-pound superstar from North Carolina has led the Pelicans to a shocking 18-9 record and has catapulted himself into the NBA MVP odds race.
That MVP case would be looking even better had the Pels taken care of business against the Jazz on Tuesday, but Williamson has a chance to avenge one of New Orleans’ worst performances later tonight. And there’s every reason to expect he will.
Williamson finished Tuesday’s game with 26 points on 10-16 shooting. Not a bad night's work for a star player of his caliber. Except foul trouble held Zion to less than 26 minutes played, which means he scored slightly more than a point per minute he saw the court.
That’s not unusual for Williamson at the moment. He’s got the touch and bowling ball-like momentum of prime Charles Barkley with the vertical explosion of Vince Carter. His very movements on a game-to-game basis seem to deny the laws of physics. Like Neo at the end of the first Matrix, you can see a moment every game where it seems clear he’s starting to believe.
His shot chart is also pure comedy. It’s a heat map that exclusively blankets the area right around the rim. 75% of all Zion’s shots come right at the basket, and the vast majority of those are layups with his left hand. Everyone knows where he’s going on any given possession, but nobody can reign him in.
He’s started to mix in the occasional right-handed finish now just to throw opponents off the scent, not that it matters much, as despite his left-hand dominance Williamson shoots 70% at the rim and 62.6% on 2-pointers overall per Cleaning the Glass.
And nearly half of all of Zion’s shots are unassisted. He simply sizes up the opposing team from the top of the arc, and even with the entire defense tilting the court against him, he’s able to burst through and get separation. What can opponents do about that? In many cases, whether they intend to or not, the answer is foul. Zion draws fouls on 21.6% of his shots. He’s simply a problem without an answer right now, and one that Utah doesn’t have the tools to address.
Utah is the league's fifth-worst defense, and most of its defensive success (limited as it is) has been concerned with denying 3-point attempts rather than shots at the rim. The Jazz are an offense-first outfit at heart that thrives on spacing the floor with Kelly Olynyk and Lauri Markkanen as their primary big men.
Utah has defensive options with Jarred Vanderbilt and Walker Kessler, both good to great defenders on any given night. But Kessler is still a rookie who sees less than 17 minutes per game, and Vanderbilt doesn’t have the physical profile to hang with Zion. Vando should be commended for making his living as a Draymond Green-esque small-ball five, but against Williamson’s combination of strength and dexterity, he might as well not be there.
Tuesday’s game ended a streak of Zion hitting the points Over in seven straight contests and again, that was only because he was held to just 26 minutes of action. When he was on the floor, Utah, just like the rest of the NBA, had nothing for him. Until oddsmakers drastically adjust Williamson’s lines his points Over will be one of my favorite bets on the board.
My best bet: Zion Williamson Over 27.5 points (-115 at PointsBet)
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Pelicans vs Jazz spread analysis
It wasn’t Utah’s win on Tuesday that was shocking, so much as the margin of victory. They won by 21 points and the game was non-competitive for large stretches of action. So, was this just a rough shooting night for the Pels or something more sustainable for Utah?
Likely to sustain is how the Jazz managed to score. They didn’t get hot from three, instead, they attacked New Orleans mercilessly in the paint. The Jazz went 20-27 in the restricted area and 12-18 from floater range.
Jonas Valanciunas has done a lot of good things in his career, but he’s struggled defensively this season in a reduced role, and his -2.4 defensive estimated plus-minus puts him in the company of sieves like James Wiseman and Andre Drummond. He’s not solely responsible, but he’s certainly contributed to Pels opponents shooting the second-most efficient rate at the rim of any team in the NBA this season.
There’s no doubt that the Pels struggled with five-out offense that Utah favors, but I’d bet they game plan for it and do significantly better on the rematch. Regular season basketball sees relatively little scheme adjustment and prep on a game-to-game basis, but these two-game sets the NBA has begun to adopt are changing that.
We’re seeing more teams make playoff-style adjustments between Games 1 and 2 of these back-to-back matchups against the same opponent. I believe Willie Green will do just that. New Orleans has proven resilient after losses this season, going 5-1 against the spread in their last six games following an ATS loss.
Pelicans vs Jazz Over/Under analysis
The Utah Jazz seem to excel at putting opposing teams on the backheel and forcing them to play their style of basketball. It leads to a lot of high-scoring games, as opposing teams get drawn into Utah’s preferred pace. It’s part of why the Over is 10-1 in their last 11 games against teams with a winning record. They keep things competitive by turning every game into a track meet.
A preference for high-pace play is a trait that both New Orleans and Utah share. The Pelicans and Jazz both rank in the Top-10 fastest in time to shot per Inpredictable, as well as both rating in the Top-3 fastest after grabbing an offensive rebound.
But there’s something to be said for Utah’s altitude advantage when playing at that speed. Whether it’s an accumulation of factors or simply because the game was out of reach, the Pels certainly began to look sluggish in the second half of Tuesday’s game.
Much like how scoring typically declines as a playoff series goes on, I think that defense is more likely to improve during this rematch than offense. Familiarity breeds contempt, but it also breeds scheme resilience and institutional memory. At 233 I’d lean toward the Under.
Pelicans vs Jazz betting trend to know
Pelicans are 5-1 ATS in their last six games following a ATS loss. Find more NBA betting trends for Pelicans vs. Jazz.
Pelicans vs Jazz game info
|Location:||Vivint Arena, Salt Lake City, UT|
|Date:||Thursday, December 15, 2022|
|Tip-off:||9:00 p.m. ET|
|TV:||Bally Sports New Orleans, AT&T SportsNet Rocky Mountains|