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Ingram’s return a slam dunk as Pelicans prevail 120-111 over Hawks

New Orleans finishes the preseason with a 4-1 record

NBA: Atlanta Hawks at New Orleans Pelicans Larry Robinson-USA TODAY Sports

The New Orleans Pelicans concluded the preseason with a 120-111 victory over the Atlanta Hawks and a 4-1 exhibition record; however, the greater takeaway is that the team’s leader made a triumphant return.

One wouldn’t have faulted Brandon Ingram for looking rusty in his first action of 2022-23. After all, the rest of the players on the court at tip-off had been playing competitive minutes against NBA teams for well over a week. Yet all B.I. did was go 4 for 4 from the field in his initial stint of seven minutes, scoring 11 points while also dishing three assists.

Ingram finished his efficient night with 19 points on 7 of 11 from the field and 4 for 5 from the free throw line, looking very much like the confident player we last saw against the Phoenix Suns in the playoffs.

While it was smooth sailing for BI and gang in the first quarter, building a 40-24 lead, the second very much belonged to the Hawks. At one point, Atlanta went on a 17-0 run.

Dejounte Murray and Trae Murray took turns dicing up the Pelicans defense, propelling the Hawks to a 67-64 lead at halftime. The Atlanta duo combined for 35 points but didn’t reappear on the floor during the second half.

Not surprisingly, the Pelicans were able to do a better job of dictating the pace and leave Birmingham as winners.

There were so many other players who stood out asides Ingram. Trey Murphy had it going early and went on to impress on both sides of the ball. In scoring 10 points and grabbing five rebounds, he also came up with two steals and rotated well in defending the lane.

However, the defensive play of the night was produced by Dyson Daniels, who has shown absolutely no fear as a rookie in any situation. Check out this block that grabbed the attention of his teammates!

Daniels, who had 10 points, three rebounds, two assists and two blocks, isn’t assured of playing time to begin the regular season, but I feel he’s done a good job of presenting a strong case.

In several prior preseason games, Daniels’ offense was somewhat shaky, but tonight there were no such issues. Moreover, one must factor all of his other winning contributions — which have been evident every time out.

Honestly, I don’t envy Willie Green. The head coach rolled with a 10-man rotation against the Hawks and every player looked deserving of their minutes. However, this group didn’t include Zion Williamson, Jaxson Hayes and Willy Hernangomez, who all sat out this contest.

Without a bevy of other bigs playing, Jonas Valanciunas took advantage, looking very much like a smart offensive hub. Although he only played 21 minutes, he finished with 16 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists.

Herb Jones had 12 points, three assists and one steal, and once again, he flashed some game from the midrange area, sinking a nice jumper from the elbow after utilizing a ball screen well.

CJ McCollum struggled a little with his shot (3 of 12 from the field), but his presence was noticeably steadying for the team.

Larry Nance Jr. posted a double-double of 10 points and 10 rebounds off the bench, and Naji Marshall took advantage of the bountiful transition opportunities to garner 13 points, four rebounds and two assists.

The regular season kicks off next Wednesday for the Pelicans when they’ll face the Nets in Brooklyn. Are you ready for it as I am?!?

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