The Dallas Mavericks and New Orleans Pelicans clash in back-to-back contests, tonight and on Tuesday. As of late, both teams are trending in opposite directions.
Dallas is 4-2 in November, with one of those losses coming at the hands of the best team in the NBA, the Denver Nuggets. The Pelicans November story tells a different story.
Despite beating the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Detroit Pistons to begin the month, New Orleans has dropped four straight. Including an In-Season Tournament loss to the Houston Rockets, one of the worst squads in the league a year ago.
3 Ways the Dallas Mavericks can slow down Pelicans' Zion Williamson
The game tonight is still important, but the game on Tuesday marks the third In-Season Tournament game for the Mavs and the second for the Pelicans. And playing in the same group as the Nuggets means a slim margin for error for both Dallas and New Orleans.
It appears that Pelicans star guard C.J. McCollum will miss both tonight's game and Tuesday with a partially collapsed lung. Thus all focus will be geared towards forwards Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson.
Ingram has played against Dallas 22 times. He averages 17.6 points, 4.8 rebounds, and 4.0 assists, all below his career averages. While Ingram is a great scorer, especially in the mid-range, Dallas has a lanky, athletic defender to bother Ingram all night long in Derrick Jones Jr.
As for Williamson, the solution is a bit less clear. The sample size is small, three games, but the former No. 1 pick averages 31.7 points on 67.9 percent shooting. Additionally, Williamson seems to get to the free-throw line at will against Dallas. He's attempted 34 free throws in three games against the Mavs.
This will be only the fourth contest played against the Mavs for Williamson. Nevertheless, he's surely licking his chops as he averages the second-most points per game against the Mavs amongst all teams in the association.
There's truly no fix-all solution for stopping Williamson. His combination of size, skill, and athleticism is rare. However, the Mavs must do whatever possible to slow the Pelicans superstar.
3. Limiting the fouls
It was previously mentioned that Williamson has great success getting to the line against Dallas. He attempts a little over 11 freebies per game against the Mavs.
And in his last game against Dallas, over two years ago, Williamson attempted 18 free throws. While he only made 12 of those attempts, it's still a concerning trend for Dallas.
A 63.3 percent free throw shooter throughout his career, the Pelicans forward doesn't necessarily qualify for "Hack-a-Shaq" treatment, but he isn't the most consistent from the charity stripe. However, he has improved his free throw shooting in every season, and even though he's shooting a career-low this year, there's still time to turn it around.
Drawing shooting fouls doesn't only allow Williamson to increase his scoring total, but it also increases the amount of team fouls on the Mavericks. Consequently allowing other Pelican players to get the line once they enter the bonus.
And luckily for New Orleans, the rest of the roster is adept from the line. Eliminate Williamson, and the rest of the roster shoots it 78.9 percent from the line, good for 11th in the league in free throw percentage. Four Pelicans with 10-plus free throw attempts are shooting above 80 percent from the line.
Not only does limiting fouls on Williamson help the Mavs limit Williamson's impact, it also helps the Mavs limit other Pelicans getting the easiest shot in basketball.
Keeping Williamson off the free throw is easier said than done. His combination of strength and speed make it difficult to stay in front of the Pelicans forward without committing fouls.
Williamson's primary defender (more on him on the next slide) will be tasked with cutting off driving lanes and forcing him to facilitate. The help defender, likely Dereck Lively II, will be responsible for defending the rim with verticality.