Brandon Ingram nears return for sliding Pelicans

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Brandon Ingram (14), Jordan Clarkson (00)
(Photo: Stephen Lew).

The New Orleans Pelicans still hold down the fourth spot in the NBA’s Western Conference with a 26-21 overall mark. That’s the good news.

The unsettling info is that the Pels have posted a 3-9 record since December 31 and are looking to end a four-game losing skid Tuesday when they host the conference leading Denver Nuggets.

New Orleans will hope to melt away Denver’s seven-game lead and put more distance between themselves and the Minnesota Timberwolves (24-24), who visit the Smoothie King Center on Wednesday and trail the Pels by 2.5 games.

Brandon Ingram has played in 19 games this season, missing 28 to date with a toe contusion. He hasn’t played since the day after Thanksgiving. When Zion Williamson was healthy, Ingram’s absence was not as daunting. Now it’s costly.

The 25-year old Ingram was averaging 20.8 pts., 5.1 rebounds, 4.8 assists, connecting on 47.2% of his shots from the floor and 46.7% from behind the arc.

Following a good test in 5-on-5 practice Monday, Ingram appears increasingly likely to return this week although he’s doubtful for Tuesday night. Head coach Willie Green said this weekend, “He’s progressing well.” If not by the opening of the homestand, we may see Ingram in the lineup by the Saturday home game versus Washington.

Of course, game conditioning will be one area of concern.

“I’m feeling good, it’s been a good last few days being back on the floor with my teammates,” Ingram said. “I’m trying to figure out some things that I can do on the floor and continue to progress.”

New Orleans is 11-8 this season with Ingram in the lineup and 15-13 without him. Without Williamson as well, the last few weeks have been a struggle. The Pelicans need Ingram now.

“If I feel up to it, that’s the plan. I’m trying to get back at it and ramp up. Try to get integrated with my teammates… I felt good today, good last week. I’m trying to test out different movements to see the reaction that I get. I feel stronger and more confident every day.”

Williamson was limited to 85 games in his first two seasons and missed all of last year. The fourth-year pro missed two games in October with a contusion of the right hip and lower back, three games with a right foot issue in November and three contests in December due to NBA health and safety protocol. He is now sidelined with a hamstring injury which will be evaluated this week.

Any team would miss Zion’s 26points, seven rebounds and 4.6 assists per outing. Oerall, he has played in 29 out of the team’s 47 games this season.

Despite key players missing, Ingram feels the Pels have a special locker room right now.

“Having all of the (players around) the same age, the older guys buying in, it’s what we bring to the floor. The great thing is everybody is in-tune with getting better everyday. We have fun but everybody really wants to work on their game everyday and figure out how we can continue to win basketball games, what we need to work on, how we can get better.”

No matter who plays, New Orleans needs to help its cause with consistent defense and valuing the ball.

“Compete, defend and protect the ball,” Green stated emphatically.

Ingram sees solutions.

“There are a lot of variables,” he stated about the recent drop off of the team’s success. “It’s not just one thing. It could be a misread on the game plan, maybe miscommunication. It’s something different. We just have to get back to our habits. We now have a small margin of error with guys out. We have to continue to build a foundation on the defensive end. The offense will take care of itself.”

One of the young players who has seized an opportunity with starters being out is rookie Dyson Daniels, who has produced quality major minutes. The 6-7, 200pound Australian doesn’t turn 20 years old until March 12 but the maturity in his game is beyond his years.

In the recent 100-96 loss to the Heat on the road, Daniels had 11 points, seven boards and six assists during 30 minutes of floor time. On November 30 against Toronto, he managed 14 points, nine rebounds and eight assists, coming close to a triple-double. Flashes of his total game have the organization and fans alike excited about this summer’s eighth overall pick.

“It’s exciting to have a 19-year old guarding some of the best players in the league,” said Green. “He’s one of those guys getting a ton of experience.”

Daniels has played in 37 games.

Ingram made it clear that he wants to return to action while the time off has afforded him an unexpected advantage. The veteran scorer has dealt with the long grind of an NBA season and knows the toll it takes on the body.

“I feel like my body is fresher, Everybody is beat up. I had a chance to let my body rest. The first few games will handle the conditioning. I’ve played basketball for a long time. I’ll be fine. I’m close. If (pain) is tolerable, I’ll be on the floor.”

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Rene Nadeau

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Born and raised in the New Orleans area, Rene Nadeau has been involved in sports ever since his earliest memories. Rene played basketball, wrestled, ran track, and was an All-District running back in football at John F. Kennedy High School. He went on to be a member of the LSU football program, developing a passion for the game in even…

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