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Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson tag team Cavaliers as New Orleans tops Cleveland 116-104

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The Pelicans now trail the Grizzlies by just two games in the race for the final seed in the 2020 playoffs!!!

Cleveland Cavaliers v New Orleans Pelicans Photo by Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE via Getty Images

On a night the Grambling State Marching Band sat up in section 320 and produced beautiful melodies from their perch during game breaks and then a wonderful show on the court at halftime, it felt like the New Orleans Pelicans beat the Cleveland Cavaliers like a drum although the final score score read only 116-104.

Not four minutes in, the Pelicans had jumped out to a 16-9 lead. Zion Williamson had three dunks. Lonzo Ball had five assists. The starting lineup was flying around on auto-pilot. By the time the dust had settled in the first quarter, New Orleans was sitting on top 43-25 and had dropped 15 dimes on 18 makes.

The Pelicans were executing well with pace, no doubt, but if we’re being honest, the Cavaliers’ defense in those 12 minutes was as putrid as I’ve witnessed this season. They were allowing the Pels to continuously get into the lane unabated and their defensive rotations were non-existent.

Lonzo Ball thrived in this setting. Although he missed a few lay-ins in transition and finished with a mere five points, Ball dictated the pace extremely well, tallying 12 assists and also added six rebounds and four steals. He was surrounded by willing and able scorers all night — note the following efficiencies.

  • Brandon Ingram: 29 points (11-19 FGAs), seven assists, six rebounds, two threes
  • Jrue Holiday: 22 points (10-16 FGAs), six assists, two steals, two threes
  • Zion Williamson: 24 points (11-16 FGAs), three rebounds, two assists, two steals

For those who have not been following Zion’s exploits closely, tonight marks his 10th straight game of scoring 20 or more points.

Since the 2000-01 season, only Blake Griffin has managed to put together a longer streak as a rookie, scoring 20+ points in 14 straight games.

For all the positives I’ve described, one would have assumed the Pelicans would have beaten the lowly Cavaliers by more than 12 points at home. Well, New Orleans experienced several minor bumps in the road, once in the middle of the second quarter and then at the end of the third, as they allowed the Cavaliers to almost crack that double digit deficit. However, the Pelicans were able to right the ship quickly both times and push the lead back into 20-point territory.

Whether they got bored or whatever the reason, the Pelicans need to be careful with letting their guard down. You can’t allow Collin Sexton, a second-year player, dismantle you for 31 points when the rest of his teammates were largely invisible.

It’s understandable for a young New Orleans team in keeping the focus for 48 minutes against a lesser opponent, but this core needs to learn how to avoid pitfalls of their own doing — they’re in the thick of the race for the 8th seed in the Western Conference and every result here on out could have serious implications!

Shortly after the Pelicans posted their win over the Cavaliers, the Grizzlies fell to the Kings by a 104-101 final. This means New Orleans is now in sole possession of 9th place and trails Memphis by only two games.

With the vast disparity in remaining schedules, one felt the Pelicans were going to make a run at the playoffs at some point but not a mere eight days out of the All-Star break where they sat 5.5 games out!

In some disappointing news, JJ Redick left tonight’s contest early due to a left hamstring strain and is scheduled to have an MRI. Let’s pray for the best possible outcome as he’s a vital component of the team’s usual success.

Up next, the Pelicans get one more chance to knock off the Lakers in a regular season game. Los Angeles will fly into town for a Sunday meeting (7:00 p.m. tip-off), but it’ll fall on the second night of a back-to-back. They play on Saturday in Memphis against the fast-falling Grizzlies.

Come at the start of the next work week, New Orleans could find themselves just one game out of playoff position! #wow