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NBA Preview: No Zion, Ingram or Jrue as playoff-eliminated Pelicans and Kings spar once more

Time for New Orleans to unleash the reserves. Who will shine?

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

The New Orleans Pelicans were eliminated from play-in contention soon after falling to the San Antonio Spurs Sunday night. Once again, the Pelicans failed to display the sense of urgency warranted for a game of its magnitude, falling behind early and never quite recovering.

“There is no explanation,” Gentry said. “We talked about it, and it is a game seven, and we did need to approach it like it was a game seven.”

“I don’t think we started the game with a great competitive spirit,” Redick echoed.

“It’s something that is not acceptable,” Zion reiterated. “The lack of spirt in the first half really dictates the second half.”

So, what happened to the unit that finished 22-14 over its last 36 games with the NBA’s ninth-best net rating?

Was Zion’s inconsistent minutes too problematic? Was it a mistake to not give Jaxson Hayes, Frank Jackson and Nickeil Alexander-Walker more court time? (Outside of Kenrich Williams, this trio has the best individual net ratings inside the bubble.) Were David Griffin’s comments following the beatdown at the hands of Los Angeles indicative of why New Orleans traveled to Orlando in the first place and how did those comments register with his squad?

All hypothetical questions, but the wondering is warranted following such a disastrous display of ineptitude on several levels.

Soon the Pelicans will look to the offseason and the path forward. There are plenty of questions in need of answering. But before we can get that far, there remain two games to be played including one against the squad that hung a franchise record 49 points on the Pelicans last Thursday.

Just 75 seconds into that game and the Pelicans proved unable to execute against Sacramento. The Kings got what they wanted early and often. It had much less to do with a ‘hot shooting night’ and more to do with the Pelicans inability to matchup even following made baskets. Two of the main culprits were Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram, but neither will be available to avenge their defensive flops. They, along with Jrue Holiday, have already been declared out for Tuesday’s matchup.

Thus, we should get a long look at some of the inexperienced youth and soon-to-be free agents. NAW and Jaxson Hayes can certainly use meaningful reps. But what about Kenrich Williams and Frank Jackson? The two are set to become restricted free agents despite combining for a meager 237 combined games.

If you include Brandon Ingram’s upcoming offseason signing and not Darius Miller’s unguaranteed contract, the Pelicans will have nine players under contract heading into the 2020-21 season. But don’t forget about a first round pick and three seconds left to spend. If they add say two of those picks, bring Derrick Favors back via Bird rights and add a couple of players via the mid-level/bi-annual exceptions, that’s 14 right there — not including draft-and-stash prospect Didi Louzada.

Franky J and Kenny Hustle’s returns are anything but guaranteed.

A few nice games from Favors to close out the bubble schedule would be a welcome sight. He has not impressed and it’s bound to cost him come free agency.

Possessing a high effective field goal percentage to go with one of the league’s best net ratings prior to the shutdown, Favors was on pace to fetch the full mid-level on a short-term deal. Now following this restart stretch, he’ll be lucky to even secure that. It’s unlikely he’ll earn enough minutes to change his fortunes, but should he play, I hope he impresses.

The same goes for unrestricted free agent E’Twaun Moore, who will have the opportunity to earn some additional coin if he can show the shooting stroke that made him the NBA’s sixth-best three-point shooter in 2018-19 (43.2 percent).

The Pelicans are likely to trot out Lonzo Ball - JJ Redick - Josh Hart - Nicolo Melli - Favors at the start, with everyone on the bench receiving time. A victory against the Kings won’t mean much of anything, but it could prove beneficial for several individual players and for a fan base in desperate need of a few positives.

Let’s geaux Pels!

Who: Sacramento Kings vs New Orleans Pelicans

When: August 11, 8:00 p.m. Central

Where to watch: TNT, FSNO

Where to listen: ESPN 100.3 FM

For more Pelicans talk, subscribe to The Bird Calls podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow this author on Twitter at @PrestonEllis.