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NBA Preview: Pelicans need to build on victory over Grizzlies and take advantage of floundering Kings

Outside of the Washington Wizards, there isn’t a team struggling more in the bubble than Sacramento

New Orleans Pelicans v Sacramento Kings Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

The New Orleans Pelicans earned a much-needed victory by downing the Memphis Grizzlies 109-99 on Monday night to sweep the season series. The medical staff finally gave the thumbs up signal for Zion Williamson to see closing minutes, with the rookie appearing in the final 4:21 of regulation and contributing five straight critical points.

Some feel the added attention on Zion provided Brandon Ingram a little extra breathing room in isolation on the two key possessions, where he drained a 22-foot three-pointer and then an 18-foot pull-up to give the Pelicans a comfortable lead.

While getting back into the win column was paramount in keeping the Pelican playoff hopes alive, it’s only one game and the beginning of what must become a hard close to the seeding tournament. New Orleans must now look to continue that success against the Sacramento Kings, who could determine the Pelicans’ fate with two remaining matchups on the docket.

The Kings, as you may remember, were set to face the Pelicans in Sacramento on March 11, but that contest was abruptly halted once Rudy Gobert tested positive for Covid-19. At the time, the Kings were rolling, having won seven of their last ten contests which included impressive victories over the Blazers, Grizzlies (twice) and Clippers. However, they’ve stumbled so far in this NBA restart, having lost all three of their games (San Antonio Spurs, Orlando Magic and Dallas Mavericks (OT)).

Despite the latest lousy results, the Kings trail the ninth-seeded Blazers by just 1.5 games and could very much still make a run at the play-in tournament if they manage to go on a winning streak, including nabbing both games against the Pelicans.

As you may have expected, De’Aaron Fox has been exceptional in Orlando, with 26.7 points and six assists on 48.6 shooting from the field. His major deficiency has been shooting from deep, where he has converted just three of 15 attempts (20 percent).

Fox likes to push the pace, grading in the 94th percentile in pace impact estimate according to BBall Index. He won’t be afraid to attack Jrue Holiday or Lonzo Ball with an 87th percentile in total isolate impact and draws fouls off of them at an 89th percentile rate. And if you don’t foul him, he’s getting to the rim with a 98th percentile grade in getting to the rim rating.

But Fox hasn’t gotten much help thus far. Imminent restricted free agent Bogdan Bogdanovic is averaging just 13 points on 30.2 percent shooting from the field (he was 1-15 in the four-point overtime loss to the Dallas Mavericks yesterday), including what could have been a game winning shot at the end of regulation.

Buddy Hield has been equally unimpressive, with an equal 13 points per game average on just 32.6 percent shooting. In addition, Buddy is posting a team-worst negative 14 plus/minus.

Despite their struggles shooting the long ball, the Pelicans must be wary of Nemanja Bjelica, Kent Bazemore, Harrison Barnes and the struggling aforementioned Kings’ trio from deep. Outside of Fox, each had been shooting well prior the coronavirus shutdown and could conceivably hurt the Pelicans in a manner similar to the Los Angeles Clippers from last week.

Thanks for reading. And let’s geaux Pels!

Who: Sacramento Kings vs New Orleans Pelicans

When: August 6, 12:30 p.m. Central

Where to watch: NBATV, 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.