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New Orleans Pelicans lose 126-123 to Houston Rockets, but Brandon Ingram emerging as true NBA star

It’s another slow start to a season, but this one feels different — the future remains as bright as ever.

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Houston Rockets Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

After falling at the hands of the Houston Rockets by a score of 126-123 on Saturday evening, the New Orleans Pelicans remain in search of their first victory of the 2019-20 NBA season.

And yet I’ve never felt better about the future of this franchise.

With Jrue Holiday (left knee sprain) and Zion Williamson (right knee meniscus surgery) sitting the contest out, the Pelicans were missing their two best players, but they still very nearly managed to pull off the surprise upset anyway.

For a third consecutive game, New Orleans made key errors and couldn’t quite close the deal in crunch time. However, the talent on this roster is obvious and eventually they are going to figure some more things out — especially if they keep displaying that fiery spirit which refuses to back down from any opponent.

“You know, like I said, we’re a work in progress,” said Alvin Gentry in postgame media. “I love the effort we played with. I think we did a good job. We put ourselves into position to win against a really good team. That’s all I can ask them to do... It’s going to turn. It’s not like we have 10 games left; we have 79 games left. The way we’re playing and the way we practice, it’ll all come together for us.”

While the depth is very much a real thing and the players individually continue to show hopeful glimpses, no one is hotter than Brandon Ingram right now. He scored nine points and grabbed four rebounds in the opening quarter and maintained his fantastic play to the finish against the Rockets, closing with a line of 35 points, 15 rebounds and five assists. He also proved yet again that his game is in the midst of significant expansion as evidenced by his four three-point makes.

“He has the ability to take the ball and create his own shot, but he also has the ability to create shots for other people,” said Gentry. “I think he’s become a much better rebounder than in the past. Just a much better defensive player. You know, he’s a better all around player because he’s worked at it. He’s done a good job of working on his game and working on his craft and becoming better at it.”

In addition to Ingram’s great game, Lonzo Ball (18 points, 10 assists, four threes, three steals, zero turnovers) and Josh Hart (23 points, five threes, two steals), who started in place of Holiday, were spectacular at times, marking a second straight wonderful effort by the three players acquired in July’s Anthony Davis trade.

Hart’s defense on James Harden specifically deserves special praise and the Pelicans head coach talked about it afterwards.

Hart did a good job on Harden,” said Gentry. “I mean he got 29 points on 29 shots. That’s the best you can hope for against him. I thought we did a good job of trying to keep him away from his shot and doing a good job of challenging his shots.”

If you prefer to view some of Harden’s frustration in video form, check this out.

There are plenty of things to clean up, of course. Gentry also mentioned in postgame the importance of limiting turnovers down the stretch, grabbing key rebounds and making the necessary amount of shots in order for this New Orleans team to get over the hump. For instance, Kenrich Williams and Redick each missed three-point attempts that would have tied the game inside the final minute of regulation. However, you have to like the team’s chances of ultimately breaking through sooner rather than later.

JJ Redick added 14 points and four threes, Nicolo Melli contributed 10 points in 11 minutes and Frank Jackson, nine points.

The Rockets were led by James Harden (29 points, five assists) and Russell Westbrook (28 points, 11 assists, 10 rebounds), but players like Clint Capela (15 points, six rebounds, two blocks) and Danuel House Jr. (15 points, eight rebounds, four threes) were also instrumental in Houston’s win.

Up next, the Pelicans return to New Orleans and prepare to welcome the Golden State Warriors on Monday, but remember that this version isn’t going to be the unbeatable force of years past. Kevin Durant is in Brooklyn and Klay Thompson sits on the shelf so Stephen Curry and Draymond Green will be asked to carry a heavier load.

Wouldn’t it be fun to watch the Pelicans notch their first victory of the season against the team that has been such a source of constant consternation since the 2014-15 playoffs?

You best believe it!