Pelicans romp over Spurs to boost playoff chances
On Friday night, one team looked the part of a team on the rise, a team determined to make progress as defined by making the postseason despite a losing record.
The other team looked the part of a team on the decline, a team not particularly parlaying its losing record into a play-in appearance in the playoffs.
The end result was predictable.
The New Orleans Pelicans went to San Antonio and routed the Spurs 124-91.
It was never close.
New Orleans jumped all over the Spurs early to take a 35-10 lead after one quarter and maintained a commanding 64-33 halftime lead. It was 95-57 going to the final quarter.
The Pelicans placed six players in double figures, led by CJ McCollum with 20 points. Naji Marshall had 18 points and seven rebounds off the bench. Jonas Valanciunas pumped in 16 points with 12 rebounds while Jaxson Hayes had 16 points and eight rebounds. Most notably, Hayes was 3 of 4 from three-point range.
Herb Jones chipped in with 13 points and seven rebounds and Willy Hernangomez had 11 points and nine rebounds.
The Pelicans shot the ball extremely well, connecting on 50 percent from the field, 41.2 percent from three-point line and 77.8 percent from the free throw line. The Pelicans dominated the boards by a 58-40 margin and outscored San Antonio 50-32 in the paint. Fast break points belonged to New Orleans by a 50-32 margin and the Pelicans committed just 10 turnovers.
New Orleans held the Spurs to just 36 percent from the field as the Pelicans led by as many as 40 points.
Gregg Popovich was so frustrated with the play of his team that he took an early exit with an ejection in the second quarter. It did nothing to motivate his lethargic team.
It was just the second win in seven games for the Pelicans, who have played without key players for so much of the season.
Once again, Brandon Ingram was out and normally, that spells doom but not this time.
New Orleans had been 3-16 without Ingram.
Make it 4-16 now.
While the Ingram watch continues, the Zion Williamson watch continues as well.
Now 29-41, the Pelicans have just 12 games remaining in the regular season.
Will there be enough time to get Williamson on the floor, get him acclimated to playing conditions, get him in game condition and effective enough to participate in the play-in phase of the postseason?
While not guaranteed by any measure, the Pelicans are clearly in good shape to make the play-in tournament.
New Orleans is now 2 ½ games clear of San Antonio and Portland in the Western Conference. The Blazers lost 128-123 to Brooklyn Friday night.
The Pelicans still have a game left with the Spurs, have two games left with Portland and have two games left with the Lakers, who are a game ahead of the Pelicans for the ninth spot in the West.
The Lakers rallied to win 128-123 in overtime at Toronto Friday night.
Marshall, Hernangomez and Jose Alvarado have been consistently solid off the bench. Trey Murphy has come on and is showing the ability which had the Pelicans make him their first-round draft pick.
When Ingram returns, the bench will grow even stronger.
If Williamson returns, well, you know the rest of that story.
Meanwhile, the story out of San Antonio was a positive one.
The three-game road trip continues at Atlanta Sunday.
Will Ingram play?
Will there be a Williamson sighting?
Will the Pelicans match their intensity and performance of Friday night?
This is getting interesting once again.
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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…