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Ingram, Jones could play deciding factors in Pelicans’ effort against Durant’s Nets

New Orleans is on the upswing and are not expected to be as shorthanded as in the first matchup

NBA: Golden State Warriors at New Orleans Pelicans Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

When the Pelicans and Nets last met, New Orleans nearly scored an unthinkable win, but Kevin Durant and James Harden proved too lethal down the stretch, leading Brooklyn to a 120-112 victory.

With 4:36 left in regulation, the Pelicans led 104-101 — this after trailing by 21 points late in the third quarter. Unfortunately the comeback bid was thwarted during clutch time by, you guessed it, Kevin Durant and James Harden.

Durant (28 points, seven rebounds, eight assists) and Harden (39 points, five rebounds, 12 assists) combined for 12 points over the final minutes to push the Nets across the finish line with a 120-112 victory.

Although the Pelicans put forth a spirited fight, that defeat marked the 12th loss in the first 13 games. Since that time, however, New Orleans has gone 15-14. They’re a much improved team, as evidenced in Thursday’s 113-89 thrashing of the Clippers.

One reason for the turnaround: the starting lineup of Devonte’ Graham, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart, Herb Jones and Jonas Valanciunas has really clicked. This group has produced a 10-5 record to date when tipping off games together and the underlying stats do not show a mirage.

In 282 minutes, that lineup has posted a +10.2 net rating. That’s the 15th-best mark among lineups that have spent at least 100 minutes together. Both the offense (112.1 ORTG — 17th) and defense (101.9 DRTG — 15th) rank well.

Brandon Ingram and Herb Jones have significantly bolstered those stats so tonight’s matchup will be extremely interesting to watch. If you may recall, Ingram sat due to a hip contusion and Jones saw less than 23 minutes of action because of foul trouble in the first go-round with Brooklyn.

Don’t discount the importance of Willie Green getting a full complement of minutes from one of the best contributors in the game and an absolute lockdown defender.

Ingram is averaging 27.8 points, 6.3 rebounds, 6.3 assists and 2.3 threes over the last four games, shooting the ball at an extremely efficient clip (54.1 FG%, 52.9 3PT%, 88.9 FT%).

Durant and Harden combined to score 14 points on 4-5 shooting against Jones in that first meeting with the Nets. Having time to process that game and entering tonight with the fewest personal fouls average for a month though, one has to like Herb’s chances of improving at least somewhat in his second attempt against the two former MVPs.

Meanwhile, the Nets will be without Kyrie Irving (New York City COVID-19 mandate), LaMarcus Aldridge and Joe Harris (left ankle surgery), who poured in 24 points in November’s matchup. Nic Claxton is listed as questionable.

One additional bit of analysis: the Nets are mediocre at home, posting an 11-11 record. However, that may mean very little. Brooklyn is coming off a bad 130-09 to the OKC Thunder so a strong bounce back performance seems likely.

Without a doubt, there’s a lot of compelling reasons to watch how this matchup unfolds and one has to believe that decent odds exist of the Pelicans emerging the victor.

Who: New Orleans Pelicans (16-26) at Brooklyn Nets (26-15)

When: January 15, 2022, 6:30 pm

Where to watch: Bally Sports New Orleans, NBA League Pass

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 @OlehKosel.