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Pelicans hang with Knicks but fail to get over hump, lose 123-117

RJ Barrett and New York’s perimeter shooting was far too potent

New York Knicks v New Orleans Pelicans Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

Down both Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram, the New Orleans Pelicans had nothing to lose facing the New York Knicks on Saturday evening at the Smoothie King Center.

The Pelicans were valiant in their effort, but it wasn’t enough to prevent New Orleans from taking its third straight loss, a 123-117 defeat at the hands of the Knicks.

New Orleans never led in the ball game, but took this one down to the final minutes after falling behind by as many as 16 points in the first half.

The Pelicans were down 106-94 with 5:41 remaining before they were able to put together a 15-5 run capped by a Herbert Jones layup that brought New Orleans to within two, trailing 109-111 with 1:51 to play.

Unfortunately, the Pelicans were without a closer. The Knicks had one in the person of RJ Barrett. Barrett scored or assisted on 11 of New York’s final 14 points.

Jonas Valanciunas collected his sixth double-double in seven games, leading the Pelicans with 27 points and 14 rebounds while also handing out four assists.

Jones matched his career high with 12 points, while filling the stat sheet with three rebounds, five assists, three steals, and providing hustle and aggression that leaped off the charts once again.

The rookie was able to take All-Star Julius Randle out of the Knicks’ offensive equation. Randle scored only 10 points in 38 minutes.

Devonte Graham (17 points, eight assists), Josh Hart (16 points, eight rebounds), Nickeil Alexander-Walker (13 points, six assists), and Kira Lewis Jr. (12 points) were the other Pelicans to reach double figures.

Barrett finished with career-highs of 35 points and six made threes. His eight rebounds and six assists were both season-highs.

Evan Fournier made five of New York’s 19 three-pointers, the most allowed by the Pelicans so far this season, as the Knicks shot a scorching 57.6 percent from beyond the arc.

Kemba Walker tied Fournier with 19 points, as the New York backcourt trio went 15-23 from deep.

The Pelicans, who have shown some individual and collective moments of defensive intensity, struggled to string together stops against New York when they needed them most. The Knicks became the fourth team this season to shoot better than 50 percent from the floor against New Orleans, and the third to make more than half its shots from both two- and three-point range.

As there have been in each game, there were positives.

Turnovers were down to just 11, and the Pelicans won the battle of the boards 43-37, dominated points in the paint by a margin of 16, their 30 assists were a season-high, as were their 24 fast break points.

The New Orleans bench even contributed; playing the Knicks’ reserves to a stalemate with 32 points apiece.

And still, there the Pelicans sit with a 1-6 record as they prepare to head out on a four game road trip that will include games against the Phoenix Suns, Sacramento Kings, Golden State Warriors, and Dallas Mavericks.

That’s a stretch that would be difficult for a fully healthy New Orleans squad. Depending on Brandon Ingram’s availability, it may be even more so.

There is no denying that these New Orleans Pelicans have proven to be a team that will compete for the majority of each game. They are resilient.

They also still suffer from the lapses in decision making and lack night to night consistency from too many players on the offensive end.

New Orleans isn’t as bad as its record suggests, but the Pelicans are digging a hole that has the potentially to get substantially deeper over the next week.

By that point, even the broad shoulders of Zion Williamson may not be enough to get the Pelicans into the playoffs for the first time since 2017.

Pretty scary thought, huh?

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