Pelicans handle Kings to clinch playoff play-in spot

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Who would have thought it?

The New Orleans Pelicans were a mere afterthought.

The 2021-22 season appeared over in just over a month’s time.

First, there was the ill-advised statement by David Griffin that Zion Williamson would be ready to go for the season.

Then, without Williamson and adjusting to a new, young, first-time coach, the team fluttered, sputtered to a 1-12 start which turned into 3-16.

New Orleans is heading for the postseason for the first time since 2018 following a 123-109 win at Sacramento Tuesday night.

It was a wire-to-wire victory for the Pelicans.

Jackson Hayes put up career highs with 23 points and 12 rebounds while rookie Trey Murphy III and Devonte Graham each came off the bench to put in 14 points. CJ McCollum had 23 points, five assists, four steals and four rebounds.

Brandon Ingram suffered through his second straight subpar game, shooting poorly again. This time, Ingram was just 5 of 15 from the field, scoring 17 points but he dished out eight assists and had seven rebounds. New Orleans needs to get him back on track.

Not known for their perimeter game, the Pelicans nailed nine 3-pointers in the second half, including seven in the third quarter to fend off the pesky Kings. New Orleans was 12 of 25 (48%) from 3-point range, including 9 of 15 in the second half.

The Pelicans shot 51 percent from the field and handled the Kings by a 44-34 margin on the boards. The Pelicans had 14 fast break points to eight for the Kings while New Orleans had 58 points in the paint to 44 for the Kings.

Sacramento dented the New Orleans defense, shooting 51 percent from the field and the Kings made 20 of 22 free throw attempts.

New Orleans played without Jonas Valanciunas, who missed the game with a sore ankle. Willy Hernangomez filled in admirably with 12 points and 12 rebounds. Larry Nance Jr. contributed 10 points off the bench.

Now, the Pelicans are most likely to get a lottery pick from the hapless Lakers, who missed the playoffs, despite the presence of LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Russell Westbrook, Dwight Howard and Carmelo Anthony.

Now, the Pelicans will play the San Antonio Spurs in the play-in game between the ninth and tenth-place finishers in the Western Conference.

Still to be determined is who finishes ninth and will host the game.

The Spurs are playing well.

They defeated Denver 116-97 Tuesday night for their third straight win to remain a game behind New Orleans.

San Antonio owns the tiebreaker over New Orleans.

The Pelicans have three games remaining, starting with a home game against Portland Thursday night. Then, the Pelicans head to Memphis Saturday and close out the regular season Sunday at home against Golden State.

The Spurs are at Minnesota Thursday, at home against Golden State Saturday and at Dallas Sunday to close out the season.

Things are certainly looking up, trending up for the Pelicans.

On Tuesday, there were the comments by the stepfather of Williamson about Zion being happy in New Orleans, liking the culture and coach Willie Green and about how Williamson could still possibly play this season.

While that remains unlikely, the likelihood of a promising future is, well, promising, thanks to Green and a good mix of young players and veterans who have bought in, genuinely appear to like each other and who play hard on a nightly basis.

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Ken Trahan

CEO/Owner

Born and raised in the New Orleans area, CCSE CEO Ken Trahan has been a sports media fixture in the community for nearly four decades. Ken started NewOrleans.com/Sports with Bill Hammack and Don Jones in 2008. In 2011, the site became SportsNOLA.com. On August 1, 2017, Ken helped launch CrescentCitySports.com. Having accumulated national awards/recognition (National Sports Media Association, National Football…

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