After acquiring guards Tyreke Evans and Jrue Holiday -- the latter at a pretty high price in a draft-day trade from Philadelphia -- I expected New Orleans to challenge for the playoffs this season. Maybe the Pelicans still will, but injuries have crippled the team and it's closer to last in the West than the eighth and final postseason spot. New Orleans is a 6.5-point home dog on NBA odds for Monday's home game against West-leading San Antonio. It's the second of a back-to-back for the Spurs as they hosted Minnesota on Sunday evening.
Follow along as we break down this matchup and decide where the best options lie for our NBA picks tonight.
Be sure to take a look at tonight's NBA Picks of the Day.
Thin Pelicans Backcourt
The Pelicans (14-20-2 ATS, 20-16 O/U) enter this game having dropped five straight (when a win in that first game of the streak would have gotten the team to .500), the longest skid in the Western Conference. Absolutely not coincidentally, the losing streak started in the first game that power forward Ryan Anderson missed. He's arguably the best stretch four in the NBA and one of the league's best 3-point shooters. The team still doesn't have a timetable for Anderson's return as he's dealing with a herniated disc in his back. He was averaging 19.8 points and 6.5 rebounds per game. The Pelicans have reached triple digits just once since Anderson was lost, Saturday's 110-107 loss at Dallas.
New Orleans was really shorthanded in Saturday's game as not only was Anderson sidelined but also Evans and Holiday. The former sprained his ankle on Friday and is questionable for this one. The latter, whom the Pelicans gave up Nerlens Noel and a protected 2014 first-round pick for, is likely out another month or so with a leg injury. Thus some dude named Brian Roberts had to start at the point in Saturday's game and he was 2-for-10 from the field. I do this for a living and I had to look up where Roberts went to college (Dayton).
Those injuries also have led to more playing time for Austin Rivers, who looked like a bust as the No. 10 overall pick in the 2012 draft after a stellar freshman season at Duke. Rivers rarely played when the Pelicans were healthy but has totaled 48 minutes in the past two games and averaged 10.5 points and 4.0 assists. Maybe there's still hope for Doc Rivers' son.
It's really a shame this team isn't at full strength because Anthony Davis has blossomed into one of the Top 10 players in the league, averaging 19.6 points and 10.3 rebounds. If you go by ESPN's player efficient rating, Davis is the sixth-best player in the league behind Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Kevin Love, Chris Paul and DeMarcus Cousins. OK, that stat just lost credibility. Cousins isn't a Top-5 player even though he does have gaudy stats.
San Antonio (19-17 ATS, 23-12-1 O/U entering Sunday) has the NBA's best road record at 14-3 (11-6 ATS at sportsbooks). The only away losses are pretty acceptable: Portland, Oklahoma City and L.A. Clippers. The Spurs were hoping to get back swingman Manu Ginobili for Sunday's game against the Wolves after he missed one game with a hamstring injury. He did participate in some parts of practice on Saturday.
On Nov. 25 in San Antonio, the Spurs beat the Pelicans 112-93 as 9.5-point favorites on the NBA odds. San Antonio had seven players in double figures, led by Ginobili's 16, and led by as many as 32 at one point. The Spurs played textbook basketball with 30 assists on their 44 field goals. After trailing 4-2, the Spurs were never behind again. Anderson led the Pelicans with 17 as they lost their sixth straight in San Antonio.
The Spurs won three of four against the Pelicans last season but only six total points separated the teams. New Orleans will have arguably the "plainest" starting five in NBA history for this game in terms of player names: Brian Roberts, Eric Gordon, Anthony Davis, Jason Smith and the one outlier, Al-Farouq Aminu. The Pelicans are reportedly shopping Gordon in the hopes of landing a center to help alleviate Davis' usage in the paint.Be wary of this game as it could be one of those where Gregg Popovich rests one of his Big 3 of Tony Parker, Tim Duncan or Ginobili as it's the second of a back-to-back and on the road -- he generally doesn't do it at home so the Spurs season-ticket holders are denied the chance to see their guys. This game is sandwiched in the middle of six home games (two before, four after), so it really sets up perfectly like something Pop may do. For that reason, I'd take the points here even though the Spurs have covered five straight on NBA odds in the second of a back-to-back. New Orleans has covered five straight at sportsbooks against San Antonio at home.