Little had been done by the Pelicans so far this season to inspire confidence that they could take care of business against even the worst the NBA currently has to offer. Despite a wobbly second half that featured a scoring bonanza from Bradley Beal, that changed on Wednesday night with what wound up being a dominant 124-106 home win over the Wizards from Washington D.C.
Beal’s intentions upon stepping onto the floor for the third quarter were immediately clear: he was going to leave it all in the Smoothie King Center. The only minutes he didn’t play in the second half were the final two, sitting only after the Pelicans had pushed the lead back into double digits. It was because of Beal, though, that a victory for New Orleans was ever in doubt. He scored 31 of his game-high 47 points on 19 second-half shots, many of which came against a helpless Eric Bledsoe.
Beal’s star power shone brighter than any other player’s in this one, but the combined forces of Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram were more than enough to match the guard’s sensational output. The young Pelicans duo scored 32 points a piece. Though more evenly distributed throughout the game than Beal’s, all 64 were just as impressive
Williamson got into the paint early and often, pounding an overmatched Wizards’ frontcourt that was missing Thomas Bryant, their starting center, to injury. Here is a look at his shot chart, which should look awfully familiar at this point:
It is encouraging that Zion is beginning to let loose from three a bit more often in the last couple games, as tiny as that sample is. But on night’s like tonight, when he is able to have his way with defenders that are either too slow, too small, or both, it’s hard to argue with slicing towards the rim at any and every opportunity.
Conversely, Ingram thrived on the perimeter. He knocked down a career-tying best seven triples, a few of which were of the pull-up variety. Like many of his teammates tonight, Ingram was quick to launch, as he was on this play:
The bizarre aversion to the three-point line that has plagued this team in recent weeks was gone tonight because of an unflinching commitment to punishing open space. After averaging 27.2 three-point attempts per game over the last six contests, the Pels took 28 in the first half alone and finished with 43. That they knocked down a cool 17 of them (39.5 percent) is an indication of both their ability to make these shots (six different players had a make, four of whom had multiple) and the confidence to take them when available. Whether they will continue to take advantage of these skills against better teams remains to be seen.
In the first half, Beal shot just 6-16 from the floor for 16 points thanks in large part to the efforts of Lonzo Ball, who appeared to injure his ankle in the waning minutes of the second frame. He clanged a three-point try off the iron just before being subbed out, but the pass he made on the previous possession does proper justice to his impact in the 16 minutes he played:
LOTS to love in this first half from the Bledsoe/Ball backcourt in the first half. Lonzo came up limping on this possession, but still made a PERFECT full-court pass pic.twitter.com/6Y0mJ8bEYL— Mike Delayo (@NolaYanks2740) January 28, 2021
In light of the reports that Ball could potentially be on the move at some point this season, I was particularly eager to watch him in this matchup. His one-half stat line of nine points, four assists, a pair of steals and zero turnovers was strong, as was his overall impact on the game. His willingness to run the floor going both ways opened up a lot of early opportunities for both him and his teammates, guiding New Orleans to the 19-point halftime lead. Hopefully, he’ll be able to sustain his rhythm upon his return to the court.
It wasn’t only in the second half that things started to get away from the Pelicans a bit. They scored only three points in the first three minutes of the second quarter after scoring 35 in the first. The bench unit led by JJ Redick (5 points) and Nickeil Alexander-Walker (8 points) struggled to find the open looks that fueled a fiery first half. Redick’s time on the floor intersected with Washington’s best stretches which did not do much to help his impact in the box score (his +/- of -15 was the worst by nine).
Alexander-Walker made just three of 11 shots, but he still managed to sprinkle in some impressive productivity. For instance, take a look at the pressure he was able to put on the basket on this play:
EXPLOSIVE launch from NAW despite not having much room. The pressure on the basket leaves Adams to finish the play. pic.twitter.com/BUMIyNJ4mr— Mike Delayo (@NolaYanks2740) January 28, 2021
He is so quick on his cut to the basket that the defense rotates late and leads to an easy clean-up job for Steven Adams, who finished with six offensive rebounds and 18 total boards. The second-year guard had an impressive spin-and-score against an imposing Alex Len right beneath the basket that highlight again his special creativity with the ball in his hand. He didn’t get much time beside Ball in this contest, but I hope we get to see some more of what that combo can do together moving forward.
Garrison Mathews gave the Pelicans trouble late, knocking down a few late threes that culminated in 15 points overall in the game. Save for a slick nine-point opening to the second quarter for Robin Lopez, there were few other offensive contributions for the Wizards team that now sits at 3-11.
While still closer than it should have been, this 18-point win could still act as a stepping stone for a team that is trying to get back on its feet. Friskier competition awaits, but hopefully there were some glimmers of proof in the pudding that SVG has been cranking out that will prove generative for continued improvement. With the mighty Milwaukee Bucks coming to town on Friday for an ESPN-broadcasted matchup, my personal choice would be a vanilla pudding, but a chocolate pudding could still work, too.
What were we talking about again?