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Zion, Pelicans seek to avenge recent loss to Knicks

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New York Knicks v New Orleans Pelicans Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images

The New York Knicks post-Bill Clinton have stunk up the whole NBA — but those glory years of Ewing, Starks, and Van Gundy are back again with an unlikely group of players surrounding “immediate turnaround” specialist coach Tom Thibodeau. New York is in 6th place in the East, riding a 5-game winning streak (longest since 2014), and sit three games above .500.

The Pelicans meanwhile?

Well, they lost to those very Knicks just a couple days ago before losing tragically (do the Pels lose in any other fashion?) on a late call to the desperate Wizards on Friday.

These Pels keep finding ways to keep themselves out of the top 10 in the West.

The defense is “meh,” the offense is top-heavy, and late-game scenarios haven’t been kind. Plus injuries. Against Washington on Friday night, the Pels died late:

“With 5:57 remaining in regulation, New Orleans was ahead 103-94 after James Johnson converted a layup on one of Naji Marshall’s six dimes. The Pelicans went on to make a paltry field goal on 13 shot attempts for the rest of the game though, with Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson missing eight of those nine attempts.” (Oleh Kosel’s Wizards recap)

Sadly, excellent efforts from scrap-heap pickup Naji Marshall haven’t been enough to get the Pels across the finish line. He didn’t play in the final stretch of the Wizards collapse, as SVG went with recently uninjured Lonzo Ball (2-10 FG, 0-7 3FG, team-worst -17). Marshall had 16 points, 11 rebounds, and 6 assists in 33 minutes. Van Gundy would say that decision was “worth a question, and probably a criticism.’’

Although Marshall has been good since April 2, the team’s shooting numbers (eFG% and TS%) are at the bottom of the league, just ahead of the OKC Blu... oops, Thunder, and Lakela... er, Orlando Magic. We’re out here, still trying with Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram, and Steven Adams. In an offense-heavy league, there’s never a good time to have that side malfunction for minutes or quarters at a time.

For your health: Josh Hart and Nickeil Alexander-Walker continue to miss time, Lonzo Ball has been in and out, and now Jaxson Hayes could sit after just nine minutes Friday. He is listed as probable against the Knicks.

Turnovers are also a worry since April 2, with the Pels allowing about 18 points off giveaways per game, 5th worst in the league. You hear Antonio Daniels all the time: live-ball turnovers will kill NBA teams.

Meanwhile, the Thibodeau style helps the Knicks stay away from mistakes and opponent transition buckets and they’re at the top of the league in these categories. Their defense is attentive and active. They never, for instance, look like some of those Gentry-led defenses from a couple years ago; you can see why Thibs was often rumored about or desired by fans for the Pelicans head man.

Former Pelican and current All-Star Julius Randle has been super effective behind the 3-point line, shooting 41% from deep this year, offsetting his poor numbers from 2. He’s also more than doubled his assist output this year, coming in with averages of 23 points, 10 rebounds, and six assists each night. He had 44 against the Mavericks Friday.

The Pelicans will seek revenge for recent collapses and Zion Williamson may come for blood after his late-game failures against Washington. New Orleans’ playoff hopes may rely on it.

Nola is 2 games back of 10th place San Antonio with 16 games to play.

Who: New Orleans Pelicans (25-31) at New York Knicks (30-27)

When: April 18, 12:00 p.m. Central

Where to watch: Bally Sports NOLA, ESPN

Where to listen: ESPN 100.3 FM

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 @Trabeta.