You knew tonight was going to be a struggle with Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball all unavailable due to injury.
Turns out it’s hard to make up for the loss of 64.4 points and 13.5 assists from your starting lineup regardless a matchup featuring an opponent that entered a full-fledged rebuild just days ago.
Despite the decreased odds, the Pelicans had several good opportunities to pull out the victory late against a scrappy Orlando Magic team; however, several clutch-time failures prevented the writing of a happy ending as New Orleans fell 115-110 in overtime.
Let me preface the impending critique by saying that Nickeil Alexander-Walker was sensational tonight. He posted a line of 31 points, eight rebounds, three assists and four threes. On a night the Pelicans desperately needed points, he played the part of a #1 scoring option really well for the majority of the contest. The hiccups, though, played a huge factor that cannot be ignored: five turnovers for the game and several key misses down the stretch.
- a potentially game-winning jumper with 17.5 seconds left in regulation
- a go-ahead 10-foot jumper with 40.6 seconds left in OT
- a game-tying free throw with 22 seconds left in OT
- a near point-blank lay-up which would have cut the deficit to one with 10.5 seconds in OT
Please observe that Nickeil was seemingly entrusted with all attempts when the game was on the line. While several of his teammates contributed in positive manners, the team almost entirely looked to the 22-year-old to pull out the victory — and he almost did, making 13 of 24 field goals including 4 of 7 from three point range. To be perfectly fair, this game shouldn’t have come down to a final possession or two in Nickeil’s hands.
“Twenty-five turnovers to eleven,” Stan Van Gundy stated matter of factly afterwards to postgame media. “Twenty to seven second-chance points on the same number of offensive rebounds. That’s the ball game. It is actually amazing when you look at those two stats that the game was even close.”
The Pelicans would have beaten the Magic in regulation had they avoided several enormous lapses — Orlando had runs of 21-3 in the 2nd quarter and 17-2 in the 4th — and just played cleaner basketball throughout. No team should expect to win a game where the opponent outscores them 36-17 in points off turnovers.
To give some necessary credit overall, each time it appeared the Pelicans had perhaps taken a knockout punch, they staggered back onto their feet and continued to compete to the bitter end.
Josh Hart (14 points, 17 rebounds, five assists) and James Johnson (17 points, three 3s, two blocks) replaced Ingram and Williamson in the starting lineup, and both played admirably, particularly the new roster addition from the Mavericks. Johnson is past his prime, but his effort and ability to influence the game remains and it was a fun sight for these sore eyes that have long wished for a good-sized, defense-first wing alongside Z and B.I. on this roster.
Wesley Iwundu — the other recent transplant from Dallas — performed well off the bench in 20 minutes (seven points, four rebounds), and his defensive activity (two steals) was as advertised.
Kira Lewis Jr. couldn’t get a shot to drop in the first half (0-6), but he made 4 of 6 baskets after halftime. Eric Bledsoe (14 points, six assists, five rebounds), Steven Adams (eight points, 10 rebounds) and Jaxson Hayes (10 points, three rebounds) rounded out the rest of Van Gundy’s playing rotation on the night.
Up next, the Pelicans return to the Smoothie King Center tomorrow and welcome the Atlanta Hawks. Hopefully, at least one of Ingram, Zion or Lonzo will be able to return to action.