Spurs vs Pelicans NBA Pick for January 22, 2020

Game Notes

  • Zion Williamson to make NBA regular season debut after missing first 3 months of the season with knee injury; expected to be limited to 15-20 minutes
  • Derrick Favors, Josh Hart questionable for New Orleans
  • Rudy Gay expected to return for Spurs
Teams Spread Moneyline Total
Spurs +4 (-110) +145 Over 237 (-110)
Pelicans -4 (-110) -170 Under 237 (-110)

The NBA’s regular season is an 82-game marathon. It’s understandable if the days and the games start to run together after a while. However, Wednesday night’s 12-game NBA schedule will feature one highly-anticipated debut. Zion Williamson, the No. 1 pick in the 2019 NBA draft, is set to make his regular season debut for the New Orleans Pelicans.

Events like these are prone to hyperbole, but it does seem as though this is the most eagerly-anticipated NBA debut since LeBron James began his pro career 17 years ago. While few expect Zion to enjoy a career as prolific as LeBron’s has been, there is still all sorts of hype for a player that has been on the radar of many since early in his high school days.

Williamson will join the Pelicans at a good time, as the team is in the midst of arguably its best stretch of the entire season. New Orleans is still just 17-27 on the season, but they have gone 6-4 over their last 10 and they’re only 3.5 games behind the Grizzlies for the last playoff spot in the West. The San Antonio Spurs, another team in the playoff hunt, will be in New Orleans for Zion’s debut on Wednesday. BetOnline has listed the Pelicans as 4-point favorites.

Pelicans’ Talent

Zion is the new face of the Pelicans’ franchise. Anthony Davis, the old face, was dealt to the Los Angeles Lakers over the summer in the trade that brought Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball and Josh Hart to the Big Easy. While Williamson may be the headliner, it’s hard to not be impressed by what all 3 former Lakers have accomplished for the Pels so far this season.

Ingram’s rise has been the most impressive. There were many questions about his ultimate upside during his time in LA, but Ingram has looked like a bona fide star since the trade. It remains to be seen how Ingram and Williamson will gel alongside one another, but Ingram has averaged a healthy 25.6 points, 6.7 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game thsi season while shooting just under 40 percent from 3-point range.

Williamson’s presence will obviously cut into Ingram’s usage, but the former No. 2 overall pick still figures to be a vital cog in the Pelicans’ offense.

Assuming Williamson can stay healthy for the rest of the year, there’s no reason to believe this team isn’t capable of making a playoff run. Between Williamson, Ingram, Ball, Jrue Holiday, Derrick Favors, JJ Redick and Hart, there’s an awful lot of talent up and down this roster.

The Pelicans will limit Williamson’s minutes in the early-going, and with good reason. He looked like a star during the preseason, though, as he averaged better than 23 points and 7 rebounds per game in just 27 minutes per contest. He also shot better than 71 percent from the field, for good measure. Regardless of what his role will be early on, it’s hard to imagine his presence won’t make this team more formidable.

Spurs’ Static Season

We’re used to just penciling the Spurs into one of the West’s 8 playoff spots every year. This team has been in the playoffs every season since 1998, but this year is different. Gregg Popovich’s crew got off to a lackluster start, and they’re still trying to dig themselves out of that hole.

There is more than enough time left in the season for the Spurs to make up the necessary ground in order to sneak into one of the last two postseason spots, but there’s also quite a bit of competition. San Antonio is currently just 3 games ahead of the Pelicans, with the Grizzlies, Thunder, Trail Blazers and Suns all very much alive and in the hunt. Just 2 of these 6 teams will be playoff squads at year’s end.

It’s easy to point to the Spurs’ offensive shortcomings. San Antonio is still playing an old-school brand of offense that includes tons of midrange shots in lieu of 3-point attempts. San Antonio is attempting just 28.2 threes per game, which is the second-lowest mark in the league. Only the Pacers attempt fewer. The Spurs are efficient with the shots they do take (fifth in 3-point percentage), but the defense has been surprisingly porous.

Defense has been the hallmark of Popovich’s teams over the years, but the 2019-20 Spurs are lacking in that department. San Antonio is allowing 110 points per 100 possessions, which ties them with tonight’s opponent for 24th in the league. This is easily the worst defensive team Popovich has had since taking the reins as head coach in the late-1990s.

The Pick

This game has an over/under of 237 points, and with good reason. Both teams rank fifth in 3-point percentage, and both are near the cellar of the league defensively. This should also be a game with no shortage of possessions for both sides, as San Antonio is 15th in pace, while New Orleans ranks fourth. That 237 total is easily the highest mark of the 12 games on Wednesday’s NBA schedule.

The Spurs have some impressive wins on the schedule of late over the Bucks, Celtics, Raptors and Heat, but I’m still skeptical that this team is capable of making a playoff run in the West. I’m more bullish on what the Pelicans are working with, especially with a player as potentially impactful as Williamson set to return to the lineup.

I’m inclined to conservatively bet the under on the game meeting that 237 total, but I also think the Pelicans offer decent value. You can take them to cover the 4-point spread, but I also think the -170 odds are favorable enough to attack. There obviously isn’t a ton of upside there, but I’m confident in New Orleans’ ability to overwhelm a Spurs roster that just seems to lack talent beyond the likes of DeMar DeRozan, LaMarcus Aldridge and Dejounte Murray.

Bet on the Pelicans to cover the 4-point spread on Wednesday night.

The Pick: Pelicans -4 (-110)

Taylor Smith / Author

Taylor is a sports writer based in Southern California. While he primarily specializes in basketball, baseball and football, he will also dabble in things like soccer and politics from time to time. He has lived in just about every corner of the United States at one point or another, and he has been covering sports and sports betting for the better part of a decade. Taylor currently lives in Long Beach with his fiancé and their two cats.