For the New Orleans Pelicans this season, free throws have become a bountiful commodity for opponents.
And in the past two games, the Dallas Mavericks and San Antonio Spurs enjoyed a combined 76-48 discrepancy in free throws. Pelicans coach Monty Williams said he has spoken with NBA President of Basketball Operations Rod Thorn the past couple of weeks on the subject, but he doesn’t want the onus to be on the game officials.
“The one thing I’ve tried to talk to our guys about, the aggressive teams tend to get free throws,” Williams said. “Do I agree with all the calls? No. I think some of the calls easily could go our way; they just don’t.”
Williams said there are times the Pelicans drive to the basket and float the ball or finger-roll rather than dunk and force refs to call the contact.
It is against that backdrop that the Pelicans (15-22), who have lost their past six games, get set to play the Houston Rockets (25-14) on Wednesday night at the New Orleans Arena. In the first meeting between the teams, on Dec. 8 in Houston, New Orleans was whistled for 25 fouls and the Rockets 11. Houston shot 32 free throws, making 25, and the Pelicans got just eight, making six. That was a huge factor in a 107-98 loss.
“Anything I say is going to get me in trouble,” Williams said. “So I’ll leave it at that: 32 to eight.”
The spotlight will be on that in this game. Houston is No. 1 in the NBA in free throws attempted per game, 31.6. The Rockets have shot 50 or more in a game three times this season.
And that’s just the start of the Pelicans’ concerns. With center Dwight Howard the main reason, Houston is also third in the league in field-goal percentage (47.3 percent) and scoring in the lane (50.1 ppg), and is fourth in scoring at 105.3 points per game.
In the previous meeting, the Rockets outscored the Pelicans in the lane 58-40.
Like any Rockets opponent, the disparities are reasons foes need to get easy baskets, but they are also why it is difficult to do so. In the first meeting, the Pelicans scored just four fast-break points.
“It’s easier if you can (get easy baskets) against Houston because it means Dwight is behind the play,” Williams said. “When he’s at the rim, it becomes a lot tougher. They force a lot of teams to shoot jump shots just because he’s a great defender at the rim.
“We certainly have to do a better job of trying to get stops and get out and use (Anthony Davis’) ability to run. Our guards have the ability to get out and get us some easy layups.”
In their past two games, New Orleans has been more aggressive earlier. A slow start against the Rockets can mean an insurmountable deficit, as Houston has scored 60 points or more in the first half 10 times this season.
The Rockets, who are 10-9 in road games, have won three of their past four overall, the loss coming against the resurgent New York Knicks, 102-100, in Houston on Jan. 3.
In the first meeting between the Pelicans and Rockets, New Orleans had a four-point lead with 4:54 left in the game.
“We had some mistakes down the stretch,” Williams said. “The one time we gave up the (3-pointer) to Jeremy Lin, we had three guys go help on Howard. And then James Harden, on an out-of-bounds play, just slides through a screen, catches Jrue (Holiday) off guard and knocks down a 3.”
Harden had been on a roll of late, scoring 37 or more points in three consecutive games, joining Hakeem Olajuwon as the only players in franchise history to accomplish it.
The Rockets have a boost in the return of starting small forward Chandler Parsons, who missed three games with a knee injury. At 17.2 points, he is Houston’s third-leading scorer, just behind Howard (17.9).
Even with three key players out injured, Pelicans small forward Al-Farouq Aminu, who grabbed 13 rebounds vs. San Antonio, said the game played in Houston has the Pelicans confident.
“We know that we can compete with them, and if we clean up on some of the things that we did last time, we can have a chance at the end,” he said.
Williams said it was admirable of Thorn to admit that a foul should have been called when Austin Rivers attempted a last-second 3-pointer that could have tied the score against Dallas on Saturday. “There’s not much you can say about it,” Williams said. “You don’t get a win for it. The bottom line is, who’s to say we’re going to knock down all three free throws any way, if they make that call? But I’m glad we got some dialogue back that the call wasn’t made.”