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Don’t hate the player, hate the game: New Orleans Pelicans top Sacramento Kings, 133-129

Much to the dismay of diehards, Ian Clark, Jahlil Okafor and Elfrid Payton all posted huge games en route to the surprise victory.

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Sacramento Kings Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

When tonight’s game tipped off, the New Orleans Pelicans were in a four-way tie for the league’s sixth worst record. Following a 133-129 victory over the Sacramento Kings, New Orleans now finds itself in sole possession of the 9th worst, and along with the sudden drop, have likely sealed their fate of entering the draft lottery with reduced odds of landing Zion Williamson, Ja Morant or RJ Barrett with their own first round pick.

Don’t hate the player, hate the game.

Yes, many diehard fans did not want to see a rotation full of reserves win a game that hurts the chances of adding the next bonafide star, but please understand this from the present player’s perspective: the primary concern is to improve one’s own standing within the league. They could care less about helping roll out the red carpet for some rookie. This is especially true of players readying themselves for free agency; notice two of the three biggest statistical lines were produced by Pelicans looking to sign new contracts this summer.

Following up an impressive 24-4-4 line in Phoenix, Ian Clark went bigger, scoring over 30 points for just the second time in his career. In all, he filled out the box score nicely with 31 points (season-high), seven threes (career-high), four rebounds, three assists, two steals and two blocks.

Elfrid Payton tallied 26 points, 14 assists, six rebounds and three blocks, but everyone should remember him for tripping up De’Aaron Fox.

Jahlil Okafor, who hasn’t eclipsed the 20-point mark since February 4th, went off for 23 points (on 10-14 shooting from the field), 14 rebounds, three assists and two blocks. For good measure, he sank a legit three-point bomb, just the third of his career.

The two remaining Pelicans starters also wound up in double figures. Christian Wood scored 10 straight points for New Orleans in the third quarter to finish with 14 points, seven rebounds and two threes, and Kenrich Williams dropped 12 points, five rebounds and five assists.

Harrison Barnes led the way for the Kings by scoring 29 points and De’Aaron Fox went for 24 points, 11 assists, six rebounds and three steals. Former Pelican Buddy Hield had an off night shooting the rock (12 points on 15 shots), but he did manage six assists and five boards. Marvin Bagley III, who is likely going to be a better player than 2018 first overall pick Deandre Ayton, totaled 19 points and grabbed 14 rebounds off Sacramento’s bench.

Outside of Elfrid, New Orleans was missing the rest of their typical starters. Even Julius Randle took a seat for this contest. Yet, the Pelicans inexplicably beat the Kings, who honestly dropped a dud.

Sacramento was scoring at will throughout much of the first half, building a 14-point lead in the second quarter, but they lost their focus before halftime. Then after intermission, they were even flatter, falling behind by as many as 16 points to the Pelicans in the third. Although they briefly seized the lead in the fourth, they didn’t do enough in what was an important game of sorts — there was talk out of Sacramento that they were hoping to finish the season at .500. Well, that’s off the table now.

Look, another Pelicans loss would have been great, but don’t blame the current squad for not viewing the situation equally. They train throughout the course of the year and professional players all have the same goal: to be the best that they can be. Remember, basketball does more than just put food on the table, it can set guys up for life.

Although I really, really want to see Zion or Ja suit up in New Orleans next year like anyone else still watching meaningless basketball, you just can’t hate on Ian, Solo or any of the Pelicans who helped knock off the Kings. They want to keep their place in the league, too.