Greg Monroe, Pistons frontcourt will challenge ailing Pelicans

The New Orleans Pelicans would like to win their next two games and break even on this four-game homestand.

But here come the Detroit Pistons, the type of team which can kick in the front door. The teams play Wednesday night at New Orleans Arena in the third game of the Pelicans’ homestand. They play again Friday night against the Memphis Grizzlies.

As for the the Pistons, they boast a big, physical frontcourt — an area in which the Pelicans are ailing. Power forward Anthony Davis is expected to be out at least until Jan. 1 with a broken hand, and backup center Greg Stiemsma, the biggest of the team’s big men, likely will be out another three weeks with a sprained left knee.

New Orleans native Greg Monroe, a 6-foot-11, 250-pound power forward, 6-11, 279-pound center Andre Drummond and small forward Josh Smith (6-9, 225), comprise Detroit’s battering-ram frontcourt, which leads the NBA in points in the paint at 51.0 per game. The Pistons are also fourth in rebounding.

“Monroe and Drummond are guys who are just big,” Pelicans coach Monty Williams said. “They’re big on the boards, they’re big blocking shots. They can score. We have to do a good job of keeping them off the glass and limiting them to one shot.”

Monroe, a former Helen Cox High School All-American, is one of the more skilled young post players in the NBA. He is averaging 14.2 points and 9.0 rebounds in his third year out of Georgetown. Drummond is averaging 13.5 points, and is fourth in the league in rebounding at a hefty 13.0. And, Smith, who played power forward during his eight seasons with the Atlanta Hawks, is averaging 13.9 points and 6.8 rebounds. All three can fill a stat sheet by also getting assists, steals and blocks.

“They’re a big-time post-up team,” said Pelicans center Jason Smith, whis a more slender 7 feet, 240. “(Monroe) can be physical and strong at one point, but he’s so light and crafty on his feet. Drummond has a big body and is athletic.”

The Pistons were just 10-11 heading into Tuesday’s game against the Minnesota Timberwolves in Detroit. However, they had won four in a row — three straight on the road — before Sunday’s home loss to the Miami Heat. Their most impressive win came at Miami, the second game in the winning streak, in which they scored 60 points in the paint and outrebounded the Heat 46-34, with Drummond getting 18.

With the frontcourt of Smith, Ryan Anderson and Al-Farouq Aminu at a physical disadvantage against the Pistons, the Pelicans’ backcourt likely will have to play a big part for New Orleans (9-10), which has lost three consecutive home games dating to its one-point setback to Golden State on Nov. 26.

“On post defense, we really have to rely on team defense,” Smith said. “It can’t just be myself, Ryan and (reserve power forward) Lou (Amundson) out there playing post defense against them. We have to trap the ball down in the post and really just continue to play aggressive in all those matchups.”

And that’s where things could get interesting. Monroe, in particular, and Drummond are good at finding open teammates on the perimeter and cutting to the basket. Double-teamming in the low post by the Pelicans’ guards would leave open shots for point guard Brandon Jennings, rookie shooting guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, backup guard Rodney Stuckey and Smith.

The key, Williams said, will be to vary the defenses, and above all else, play fast. The guards also have to help out on the boards, the last part of defense.

That would be the antidote to both sides of the court, Williams said. In the games the Pelicans have won, getting stops enabled them to push the ball up court for open shots. Or, they got more openings and time on the shot clock to whip the ball around and find the open man. When they have to run play in a set offense, more often, they struggle.

“If we take bad shots or long 3s, their guards will run it up the floor … and here come those bigs getting offensive rebounds,” Williams said.

Guard Eric Gordon said drives to the basket will be necessary.

“If we can drive to the basket, that could get their big men in foul trouble,” he said. “We have to do a good job of playing small ball, driving and getting out on the fast break to out-run them.”

Evans to sit 1-2 weeks

Williams said guard/forward Tyreke Evans is expected to miss one to two weeks. After his ankle was sprained in the Pelicans’ first preseason game, Evans missed three weeks.

“It doesn’t seem as severe (as the first time),” Williams said Tuesday. “But that doesn’t mean he’ll come back faster.”