Lob From Luka
NEW ORLEANS – Has anyone ever done something for you without you asking? They have helped you by just doing their job, nothing more – nothing less.
Last night, the Pelicans advanced to the knockout round of the NBA’s inaugural In-Season Tournament with a 41 point – 9 assist – 9 rebound performance by Luka Doncic. The Dallas Mavericks defeated the Houston Rockets yesterday. With that loss, the Rockets were knocked out of contention in Group B, and the Pelicans supplanted them finishing group play with a 3-1 record with wins over Dallas, Denver, and Los Angeles (Clippers).
The Pelicans embark on a voyage to Sacramento to play the Kings on next Monday/Tuesday with the chance to advance to the semifinals in Las Vegas. The bayou birds had a chance to host the knockout round, but it was spoiled by a Malik Monk bank shot to beat the Golden State Warriors.
Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram, and Willie Green have an interesting opportunity on their hands. This will be the first time in the 3 years this trio has been together that they will have a chance to compete for something in a playoff atmosphere of the Golden 1 Arena. The Pelicans swept the Kings in a homestand here in New Orleans last week.
Williamson, after the win vs Denver, noted the In-Season Tournament would be a great opportunity for the team to compete for something. “For us, we haven’t won nothing. This will be a starting step.”
The quick step forward has a point. The team hasn’t won anything. The team, organization, and fans have been waiting for one thing: health, but still need to be patient.
The Pelicans are finally (*knocks on wood*- pause) getting healthy. Yesterday, CJ McCollum was upgraded to questionable. The 11-year veteran was averaging 21 points, nearly 5 rebounds and nearly 6 assists before being sidelined with a collapsed lung. Trey Murphy, along with Matt Ryan, was upgraded to doubtful. The 6’10 sharp shooting wing was poised to make a huge impact before tearing his meniscus this summer working out at the Pelicans facility. From sources close with the team, he’s progressing well.
With the health turning a corner, this iteration of the Pelicans needs time on the court together. Wins are not guaranteed by them just being out there healthy. They have to learn how to play as a collective.
For instance, Pelicans sat Williamson on the second night of a back-to-back in Utah, citing rest. Now, this isn’t uncommon for the 23-year-old superstar. This was the 3rd scheduled off day for this season in lieu of a back-to-back. The team lost the game 105-100, snapping their 3-game winning streak. The Utah Jazz sat guard Jordan Clarkson who is averaging 18 points per game, and they’re without forward Lauri Markkanen. Markkanen was last year’s NBA Most Improved Player, and he was selected for the All-Star Game.
Clarkson, who played the following game after a rest day versus the Pelicans finished with 16 points and 10 assists. The Pelicans also lost that game 114-112 with Williamson in the lineup on a night where the Jazz celebrated 50 years of New Orleans’ culture in Utah. There’s still nothing jazzy about Utah. With a chance to win or tie, Williamson collapsed the defense and kicked it out to Brandon Ingram for a contested mid-range jumper which landed hard back of the rim.
Games like these are needed for the growth of Williamson and Ingram, as a tandem. Losing allows players to grow. We can’t expect them to win when they haven’t learned how to lose. Mavericks’ coach Jason Kidd shared the same sentiment.
Last year, the Dallas Mavericks made a trade for Kyrie Irving. After the trade, Irving and Doncic were terrible in clutch minutes, but this year they sit in the top position. They proved it with a win that sent Pelicans to the next round of the In-Season Tournament.