Another exhibition game. Another victory.
While some claim they suddenly foresee the 2020 NBA championship trophy coming to New Orleans, let’s pause for a moment and recall the first 28 games of the regular season following that perfect exhibition schedule — sorry for that painful trip down memory lane but some needed gentle reminding of reality.
That said, there were positives to gleam from tonight’s action despite Mike Malone rolling out a starting five of Nikola Jokic, Torrey Craig, Bol Bol, Jerami Grant and Mason Plumlee in a meaningless contest.
After trailing 9-5 early, the three-guard starting lineup found their footing and the Pelicans got into a fantastic flow. They pushed the ball on every single possession, not allowing Denver’s defense to get set and employ their preferred zone strategy.
Nickeil with an alley-oop to Frank? Okay! Pelicans on a 22-6 run. pic.twitter.com/E0E3K27GDr— Preston Ellis (@PrestonEllis) July 26, 2020
New Orleans led 41-22 at the 10:18 mark of the second quarter and seemingly every shot attempt was of the uncontested variety. Not only were JJ Redick and Nicolo Melli nailing outside jumpers, so too were Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Frank Jackson off the bench.
NAW looking a lot like summer league NAW tonight. pic.twitter.com/9zhAcaQ3nT— Preston Ellis (@PrestonEllis) July 26, 2020
Offensive execution by the regulars is going to be key for this team in the upcoming seeding games. The defense is going to come and go, but if the Pelicans can consistently put pressure on opponents and post 120+ points on the board every night, that feels like the meal ticket for New Orleans to get into at least a Western Conference play-in tournament next month.
Once the regulars were done for the night — Lonzo Ball, Jrue Holiday, Derrick Favors, JJ Redick, Nicolo Melli and E’Twaun Moore all saw 13 minutes or less — the crisp actions and delightful decision-making slowed significantly. The Pelicans stopped keeping the Nuggets off balance and they started putting them on the free throw line. Denver was able to set their defense. The easy points dried up for New Orleans.
The Pelicans lead was cut to six points not a minute into the third quarter, but hats off to the New Orleans players on the court. Their effort was solid, even if the same couldn’t be said about their execution. They managed to stave off further damage, regained a good lead and kept the Nuggets at a comfortable arm’s length the rest of the way.
That’s to be expected of a group consisting of Kenrich Williams, Zylan Cheatham and Sindarius Thornwell, I suppose. Keep running through walls and enough good things will happen.
NAW led the Pelicans with 21 points and also added four rebounds, five assists, two steals and two blocks. Frank Jackson notched 16 points and three triples, and Zylan Cheatham left his mark on the boxscore, posting 14 points and eight rebounds in just 19 minutes.
Not surprisingly, Alvin Gentry highlighted these three players in postgame media.
“Most of our veteran guys only played the first quarter. They ended up playing 12-14 minutes or so, and so the young guys played the rest of the way. I thought Nickeil (Alexander-Walker) was really good. I thought Frank (Jackson) did a good job. I thought Sindarius (Thornwell) really did a good job because he’s just real solid. Zylan (Cheatham) came in and played well.”
The Nuggets, who were without Jamal Murray, Gary Harris, Will Barton, Micheal Porter Jr., among others, were led by Troy Daniels’ 28 points and seven three-pointers. Jokic added 11 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists, but the story was Bol Bol — if you were tuned into Denver’s broadcast. The 7’2 rookie scored 15 points, hit a couple of threes and blocked two shots.
Up next, the Pelicans wrap up their scrimmage schedule with a game against the Milwaukee Bucks on Monday. As Andrew Lopez aptly stated on Twitter, something’s got to give, with both team’s currently flashing perfect exhibition records.