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Pelicans beat Timberwolves 87-59 to finish summer league with perfect 5-0 record

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The team’s effort and defense shined in every single game

2021 Las Vegas Summer League - New Orleans Pelicans v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images

The New Orleans Pelicans closed the first half on a 21-3 run and never looked back on their way to a 87-59 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves in their MGM Resorts Summer League finale.

New Orleans finished with a 5-0 mark, one of only two teams to end the week undefeated, and won by double figures for the fourth time in five games. The Pelicans outscored their opponents by an average of 14.8 points per game.

Though they didn’t make the final game, don’t tell the Pels that they aren’t the best team in Las Vegas.

Naji Marshall backed up his talk by posting his fourth double-double, grabbing 10 rebounds and handing out 10 assists to go along with five points.

Dalton Hommes led New Orleans with 17 points; one of five Pelicans to reach double figures. David DiLeo and Moses Wright scored 13 each.

First round draft pick Trey Murphy III sat the game out for New Orleans. Minnesota played without leading scorers Jaden McDaniels and Jaylen Nowell.

Isaiah Miller was the top Timberwolves scorer with 13 points.

Watching the level of intensity that the Pels played with, their presence may have changed the margin, but it wouldn’t have changed the outcome of this game.

I hope the rest of the Pelicans were paying attention.

It’s abundantly clear that the way to Willie Green’s heart and into his rotation is through defense. It is also clear that the message was received by everyone wearing a Pelicans jersey.

New Orleans held the Timberwolves to under 30 percent shooting for the game, saving its best defensive performance for last.

“We really want to be a good defensive team,” Green said in postgame. “We feel like playing defense, being able to play defense, making it a point, will help us in the long run. We want to be a high-level competitive and winning team.”

In five games, the Pelicans limited their opponents to 34.1 percent shooting.

They dominated the hustle stats, collecting 9.8 steals and 6.6 blocks per game. New Orleans turned its defense into offense, outscoring foes by 28 points in fast break situations.

Taking into consideration that this was summer league, and the majority of the players on the court won’t be in the NBA when the season begins, it was still a series of impressive performances.

New Orleans was relentless on the defensive end, even if its offense looked like it was being run by guys who had met less than 14 days ago, which it was.

For five games, the New Orleans Pelicans (Summer League Edition) exhibited the qualities that Willie Green was hired to bring out of his players. They played with purpose, aggression, and togetherness. They worked with each other and cheered for each other.

It wasn’t perfect, but each player on the roster showed a willingness to compete on both ends.

Marshall and Murphy were statistically impressive every night. Both players contributed in multiple ways, and showed enough signs to lead one to believe that they will play significant roles this season.

Herb Jones played with a battery in his back for every minute that he was on the court. Though his offensive game is very limited at this point, defensively he’s ready for the NBA.

Kira Lewis Jr. still plays with incredible enthusiasm, and that may be his biggest problem. He’s yet to master the art of changing speeds to set up defenders. His jumper remains inconsistent. Counting on major minutes from Lewis seems premature.

Two-way signees Hommes and Jose Alvarado both had their moments. Hommes can shoot the basketball, and Alvarado showed leadership in running the offense and leading the defense. It will be interesting to watch their development in Birmingham playing for the G-League Squadron.

Those who won’t make the roster, at the very least, gave the level of effort that will leave coaches and execs with a positive impression.

And Willie Green remains undefeated as a head coach.

Yes, it’s summer league, and it will only mean something in hindsight. We get it.

But after a disappointing regular season, a turbulent and at times confusing offseason, Pelicans fans need not apologize for hanging on to this encouraging moment.

Maybe the culture has changed. Maybe Willie Green is the right coach at the right time in this franchise’s history.

Maybe.

For right now, that’s enough.

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.