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Ingram, Zion look to lead Pelicans in pivotal matchup against Spurs

Near a must-win for New Orleans considering the play-in standings

Los Angeles Lakers v New Orleans Pelicans Photo by Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE via Getty Images

With just 13 games remaining in the regular season, the New Orleans Pelicans hopes of making the postseason play-in are hanging by a very, very, very, thin string.

The Pelicans remain 11th in the Western Conference standings, trailing the 10th-place Golden State Warriors by three games, and tonight’s opponent, the 9th-place San Antonio Spurs by 3.5.

San Antonio comes into the game having won three of its last four games, a stretch that includes double-digit wins over Phoenix, Indiana, and Detroit.

DeMar DeRozan is still the closest thing that the Spurs have to a star player, and against the Pels, he’s performed like one. DeRozan has averaged 20.0 points, 10.5 assists, and 2.5 rebounds in two games against New Orleans this season and was dominant in San Antonio’s 117-114 win over the Pelicans on Feb. 27, finishing with 32 points and 11 assists.

Gregg Popovich continues to get the most out of his roster, and has been unafraid to go deep into his bench. As always, the Spurs play deliberate basketball on the offensive end and stifling defense on the other end of the floor, posting a league best 99.0 defensive rating over those last four games.

Meanwhile, the Pelicans are trying to get back on track after ending their four-game losing streak with a trouncing of the hapless Orlando Magic.

Just as they have against most opponents, Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram have presented plenty of problems to the Spurs.

Ingram is averaging 28.5 points, 7.5 boards, and 5.5 assists, while Williamson has posted a line of 20.5 points, 12.5 rebounds, and 2.5 steals. San Antonio and the Los Angeles Lakers are the only teams Zion has played more than once this season that he averages a double-double against.

Where the Pelicans have struggled against San Antonio, has been in making the three-pointer.

New Orleans has made only 25 percent of its three-point attempts against the Spurs, a full ten percentage points lower than its season average. With Nickeil Alexander-Walker out of the lineup, that number drops to 22 percent (12-of-54).

Points in the paint should be another major factor in a series where both teams have scored a total of 218 points in splitting their first two games against each other.

The Pelicans actually trail the Spurs in that category, 94-98 this season. New Orleans made up for that in the first game with a 13-point advantage from the free throw line, but the Pelicans can’t count on that kind of spread in this game.

They’ll have to win this game with consistency and discipline. Both have been fleeting throughout this campaign.

Optimistically, the Pels are still playing for the postseason.

Realistically, the New Orleans Pelicans need five more wins to surpass last season’s total (30). That’s a goal more likely within reach.

And, if they win three of their final five home games, the Pels will finish with a winning record in the Smoothie King Center. That’s something the team hasn’t done since the 2017-18 season.

Who: New Orleans Pelicans (26-33) vs San Antonio Spurs (29-29)

When: April 24, 7:00 p.m. Central

Where to watch: Bally Sports New Orleans

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 @DMGrubb.