Playing without Brandon Ingram, Zion Williamson, and Steven Adams, the New Orleans Pelicans stepped up to the challenge against the Philadelphia 76ers, earning a tough, 107-109 road loss.
The young bench was particularly effective.
Led by Jaxson Hayes’ 19 points and eight rebounds, the second unit combined for 46 points with Kira Lewis Jr. (13 points) and Wenyen Gabriel (12) also reaching double figures.
The Pelicans have three players with double-digits off the bench in a game started by Lonzo Ball, Eric Bledsoe and three bench players.— Jeff Nowak (@Jeff_Nowak) May 8, 2021
With 37 losses on the season, the Pelicans have officially earned their third consecutive losing season.
Now with key rotation players missing as Zion and Hart are listed as out and Ingram, doubtful — although Nickeil Alexander-Walker is probable to return, the likelihood of a late push to the play-in seems smaller than ever. New Orleans trails San Antonio by 2.0 games, but the Spurs own the tiebreaker and only five games remaining.
The Pelicans do have the opportunity to earn a season split with the 33-34 Charlotte Hornets. Charlotte knocked the Pelicans off 118-110 back on Jan. 8.
Without Williamson and company, the Pels are missing 97 points from that first contest.
Which means that Lonzo Ball and Eric Bledsoe are going to have to score much more than the 13 points that they combined for that night.
Offense is a major concern for the first time this season. Fortunately for the Pelicans, they’ve played some very solid defense as of late.
Credit to Stan Van Gundy for sticking with his strategy as the Pels have been the NBA’s second-best defense over their last 15 games.
That defense will have to be on point against the Hornets, who still have a number of weapons at their disposal.
Pressure at the point of attack is key against the penetrating efforts of Terry Rozier and LaMelo Ball. PJ Washington has scored 20 or more points in each of the last three games, giving some balance to their front court.
Charlotte is missing some components also. Devonte’ Graham, Gordon Hayward, and Miles Bridges could all be sidelined. Bridges was a terror, with 20 points on 11 shots in the last meeting and his connection with Ball can’t help but remind you of Williamson and LaMelo’s big brother.
It should be an intense rematch for the Ball brothers on Mother’s Day. Lonzo has been able to follow up sub-par performances with solid games this season, and after watching his little brother flirt with a triple-double in his building, someone will have to lay claim to being the biggest baller in the family.
The Hornets have never earned a season series win over the Pelicans, and Stan Van Gundy surely doesn’t want it to happen on his watch.
New Orleans is going to have to change its luck in a number of areas.
The team is 12-17 this year, and has lost five of its last six, against Eastern Conference opponents.
On the road, they’ve been worse, going 12-20 away from the Smoothie King Center, though they have gone 4-4 over their last eight road contests.
There’s still the chance to finish the season on a high note, even without a postseason appearance.
There’s also a chance to test the resiliency and fight of a number of players who could legitimately be auditioning for their jobs.
So, enjoy the game. But first, show Mom some love.
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