The New Orleans Pelicans sure as heck didn’t play the part of a 3-16 NBA team on Wednesday evening as they throttled the Washington Wizards by a final score of 127-102.
Jonas Valanciunas hit the game’s first shot attempt — a 3-pointer — and the Pelicans were off to the races. They jumped out to a 9-2 lead. Then the margin became 25-9. New Orleans built a first-half lead of 24 points before finishing with a 72-50 halftime lead.
“The starters, they set the tone,” Willie Green said in postgame. “They came out right away. It was a great defensive plan by Coach Spoon and they executed.”
Very much as the score indicates, the Pels first five slaughtered Washington’s. They were smarter, faster and more cohesive. The energy was beautiful and it produced some great basketball. New Orleans suffered only two turnovers in the first half. TWO! They also got to the free throw line 19 times (made 18) and handed out 16 assists.
The credit for the fantastic first half goes to the coaching staff for unlocking the right starting lineup combination (Graham-Ingram-Hart-Jones-Valanciunas) — please keep it the same until Zion Williamson returns — and Devonte’ Graham’s left foot healing enough for him to be available.
“I feel good,” Graham said in postgame. “I think we’ve all started before. Herb (Jones) has started, and Josh (Hart). Just trying to find a good group, have some scoring coming off the bench with Nickeil (Alexander-Walker), and keep him aggressive. Like I said, everyone played and did their part tonight. It was aggressive, and we kept our energy the whole game and tried not to be a first half team, like how we lose those leads.”
New Orleans did start the last 24 minutes more slowly, but they were able to maintain their large edge through the third quarter because the defense stayed engaged, keeping most of the Wizards at bay. Only Bradley Beal was doing any real damage.
It also helped things that some good fortune was on their side.
And those vibes continued into the fourth quarter.
That 3-pointer by Willy Hernangomez, the 31st of his career, gave the Pelicans their biggest lead over any opponent to date this season. A few minutes later, a Nickeil Alexander-Walker three stretched the advantage to 31 points.
The Wizards failed to mount a charge at any point during the fourth quarter and the Pelicans, for the first time this season, coasted to an easy victory.
“We have to get stops, and I thought tonight that was the biggest key for us,” “Our defense triggered the offense. Anytime we can get stops, force those guys to take tough shots and we rebound the ball, we are at our best. We did that tonight with 10 turnovers. It allows the offense to breath and allows us to get quality shots.”
Brandon Ingram led the Pelicans with 26 points, adding five rebounds and three assists to his line. The best part, though, was seeing his efficiency return (9-15 from the field) and getting to the free throw line eight times.
Those trips to the charity stripe were symbolic of the force that the team’s top two scorers played with on this night, which is something you want to see when the offense is struggling and wins are few and far between.
Of course, I’m referring to Valanciunas here who went to the foul line six times, making all six of his attempts. He finished with his 11th 20-10 game, posting 21 points, 11 rebounds and four assists.
Josh Hart posted a line of 16 points, seven rebounds and four assists and Graham had 12 points in his return. Although he only had four points, Herb Jones’ “glue work” produced seven rebounds, three assists and four steals.
Among the reserves, Hernangomez led the group with 13 points, seven rebounds, four assists. two steals and two blocks. If he continues to play like this, it’s probable we don’t see Jaxson Hayes for awhile.
Other guys off the bench played well too in their minutes. Alexander-Walker had 12 points, six rebounds and five assists and Trey Murphy didn’t miss a shot (3-3 FGAs, 2-2 3s).
Bradley Beal led the Wizards with 23 points. Their next highest scorer was Raul Neto’s 13 off the bench.
Coming into this one, New Orleans’ offense ranked 26th. They were averaging 100.6 points per game. Tonight they tallied 127, beating their previous season high by 10 points (123-117 loss to the Knicks on 10/30/2021).
Happy Thanksgiving everyone!