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Nickeil Alexander-Walker puts exclamation point on preseason play in leading Pelicans to 117-116 win over Knicks

New Orleans finishes the exhibition schedule with a perfect 5-0 record despite no Zion.

New Orleans Pelicans v New York Knicks Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

The New Orleans Pelicans concluded the preseason with a 117-116 victory over the New York Knicks on Friday, finishing exhibition play with a perfect 5-0 record.

Nickeil Alexander-Walker (17 points, three threes), Josh Hart (17 points, seven rebounds, three threes) and Brandon Ingram (16 points, six rebounds, three assists, two threes) led the way, with six Pelicans in all scoring in double figures. In case you’ve missed the multiple memos, the roster depth is real and it was on full display in the team’s first game without Zion Williamson, who could return to the lineup sooner than we ever imagined after the day’s earlier news.

Minutes before tip-off, TNT’s sideline reporter Kristen Ledlow reported, “I was told by the Pelicans staff that the severity of his injury is not yet known. He will be re-evaluated this weekend in New Orleans, but he hasn’t been ruled out beyond tonight’s game.”

Hasn’t been ruled out beyond tonight’s game! — Wouldn’t it be something if Zion were to suit up against the Toronto Raptors to open the season? Before we get too far ahead of ourselves, however, let's wait for the test results from this weekend and instead take the time now to praise a good effort by the rest of the team.

JJ Redick replaced Zion in the starting lineup (and Jahlil Okafor surprisingly replaced Derrick Favors) as Alvin Gentry decided to start a smaller lineup against the Knicks. For the most part, the strategy worked. Julius Randle (20 points, nine rebounds, five assists, four threes) and RJ Barrett (19 points, six rebounds, three assists) posted solid lines, but New Orleans did enough to keep the rest of New York’s roster at bay.

Jrue Holiday and Lonzo Ball got the Pelicans on the board with a couple of threes and New Orleans ran out to a 12-5 lead. That sort of became the theme on the night. They never suffered through any prolonged shooting slumps, and they led for practically the entire contest. But the Pelicans were never able to break the game wide open and the Knicks nearly caught and passed them during the waning seconds.

With 1:30 remaining and New Orleans up five, Hart was only able to make one of two from the free throw line — missed freebies quickly became a bad habit. Frank Jackson would go on to also make one of two from the line which could have stretched the lead to four and then Hart proceeded to miss two more attempts when the score stood at 117-116.

In between those rough displays from the charity stripe, the Pelicans did enough on the other end to preserve the win, with NAW doing his best Jrue Holiday impersonation.

Throughout preseason action, Alexander-Walker has been a revelation, showing the coaching staff there’s a million and one reasons he deserves a spot in the regular rotation now, not sometime down the road. From flashy behind-the-back dishes that always find their mark to curling off screens and swishing smooth three-pointers to finding his way into the paint and rising up over the defense for scores, there’s very little NAW can’t do

Are you sensing a pattern?

Play NAW now.

To be honest, Alexander-Walker has played so well that the question is no longer in my mind on whether he deserves a spot in the rotation, but rather, how can Gentry keep him on the sidelines during crunch time in fourth quarters?

NAW has been that good repeatedly, but as I mentioned earlier, there were other heroes. Josh Hart — despite those free throw line hiccups — did stuff that we assumed we would see at the start of training camp. He was knocking down threes, driving the lane aggressively, grabbing boards and also this:

I think that was Josh’s first dunk of the preseason, and the reason it’s important in my eyes is because it served as sort of a positive litmus test. Like Derrick Favors, Hart hasn’t looked physically 100%, but tonight we witnessed his quickness and hops of old. Lets hope that trend continues.

While Redick (14 points, three threes), Holiday (13 points, four assists, three rebounds) and Okafor (13 points, nine rebounds) did plenty of nice things, I want to wrap up the recap with a closer look at Ingram, because I see a guy finally beginning to put things together right before the start of the season.

Such a pretty move in real time, but note where Ingram started from, the aggressive drive and smart finish on the other side of the rim. He made it look easy, but that takes a good read, a lot of skill and plenty of timing.

No hesitation on this catch-and-shoot three-pointer and that’s gold. Ingram finishes preseason with a 38.5 3PT% so this will be something to watch in the regular season. Will he continue to let it fly and sink enough threes to earn the respect of opposing defenses?

Up next, the real thing! Tuesday. In Toronto. At 8:00 p.m.

Geaux Pels!