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Pelicans snap 5-game losing streak, hold off Kings 128-123 thanks to stellar free throw proficiency

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Zion Williamson was damn near perfect!

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Sacramento Kings Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

In a game that featured very few displays of solid defense, the New Orleans Pelicans wound up on the positive side of a 128-123 shoot-out over the Kings to snap their 5-game losing streak and improve their record to 5-7 on the season.

It was a collective effort by the offense, with six players scoring in double figures for the Pelicans; however, Zion Williamson was simply unstoppable. He tallied 31 points on a near perfect shooting line — 13 of 15 from the field and 5 for 5 from the free throw line — and a few of his scores made for such spectacular highlights that they induced flabbergasted responses across New Orleans.

Zion had several thunderous dunks, including the following jam, so Antonio Daniels’ reaction was completely understandable.

However, the Pelicans were able to emerge with the victory in Sacramento despite letting a 19-point lead evaporate because they took care of business when they had the basketball down the stretch. During the final frame, New Orleans committed only two turnovers and knocked down 16 of 19 from the free throw line, including their final 11 attempts.

Doing a lot of little things well can help a team escape with wins on certain nights despite an obvious failure or two in certain areas, and that was precisely the night’s script. The Pelicans’ defense allowed 123 points, but the offense played consistently well enough to overcome those shortcomings.

The Kings entered Sunday’s action with the worst defense in the league, allowing 120+ points in their last seven contests, so the expectation was that the Pelicans would have little trouble scoring. Check, as evidenced by a 52.9 FG% and a 50.0 3PT%. However, it was troubling to watch New Orleans not put up much of a fight on that end of the floor either.

De’Aaron Fox scored an easy lay-up on the Kings’ first possession of the game and he never looked back. Once the final buzzer sounded, Fox had established a new career-high of 43 points on 17 of 27 shooting, while also adding 13 assists.

Fox was as dominant as Zion. He absolutely torched the Pelicans all night long and there wasn’t a better indicator of this fact than the plus/minus stat. In a five-point Kings’ loss, Fox posted a wildly positive +/- of +18 in 39 minutes. Had Sacramento merely been close to average while he was resting, the Kings would have walked away the easy winners.

Honestly though, it wasn’t just Fox who enjoyed immense success. Marvin Begley finished with 26 points, and the Kings’ offense as a whole scored 66 points in the paint. The Pelicans failed to get into the body of the attacking Kings. They never made them feel them, as coaches often like to say. It was really a putrid defensive effort on the part of the Pelicans because one of Stan Van Gundy’s mantras is to keep opponents out of the paint at all costs.

Not only did Sacramento score more often from inside the paint, they also launched 39 three-pointers. Fortunately for New Orleans, they missed 26 of those attempts. The Pelicans simply didn’t take anything away.

But thankfully, as mentioned earlier, the Pelicans did enough things correctly to close out the game with a victory, avoiding another painful loss like the one to the Pacers in overtime on Jan. 4.

“We just had better execution and we just wanted it more,” Zion Williamson said after the game to Jen Hale on Fox Sports New Orleans. “With the Pacers game, we had a lot of sloppy mistakes, and in this game, we fixed those up.”

Steven Adams was awesome, once again, posting a line of 12 points, 15 rebounds and four assists. He was perfect from the free throw line when the Pelicans needed him to be down the stretch, knocking down all four attempts.

Brandon Ingram scored 22 points, but required 19 shot attempts to reach that point total. He struggled greatly in the second half (2-8 FGAs), contributing only seven points, and I can’t help but wonder if an illegal screen in the first half was behind his drop in production. It appeared grabbed at his hip area immediately after the collision, and before the FS Nola broadcast went to commercial later, he seemed to be grimacing while walking to the bench.

In his return to the starting lineup, Eric Bledsoe was extremely efficient, dropping 21 points on 14 shots (3-4 3PTA).

“Eric was a big part, my fault, Bled, he was a big part of our win tonight,” Williamson said. “His defensive presence and him just being a leader and being vocal on the court. He hit a lot of big shots for us.”

Nickeil Alexander-Walker, who started his third straight game for the Pelicans, was quiet offensively (nine points), but he had several good moments defensively and as a playmaker (five assists, zero turnovers). Kira Lewis Jr. also provided a spark with the same assist-to-turnover ratio, too.

This win over the Kings isn’t one the Pelicans should celebrate for very long. Yes, it’s a good thing that the losing streak is over and several Pelicans enjoyed stellar offensive performances — hey, JJ Redick scored 14 points on just five shot attempts, but the defense will need to be more effective moving forward.

The next two games will be in Utah against the Jazz, who are off to a 9-4 start and are now 3rd in the West after a big win in Denver Sunday evening. The Pelicans must be more committed to their principles if they hope to steal away one of two in Salt Lake City, let alone both matchups.

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 @OlehKosel.