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Naji Marshall enjoys career night in Pelicans’ 113-93 thrashing of Pacers

New Orleans keeps on winning regardless of who sits

Indiana Pacers v New Orleans Pelicans Photo by Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE via Getty Images

The makeshift rotation apparently needed a few minutes to warm the engines.

The New Orleans Pelicans trailed the Indiana Pacers 16-6 midway through the first quarter. Everything was out of sorts for a starting lineup that was without Brandon Ingram, Zion Williamson and Herb Jones. The players on the floor were missing some shots badly and the team collected a quick five turnovers.

Then everything changed in an instant.

Led by their Second Line again, the Pelicans capped off the first on a 15-0 run. The team proceeded to keep the pedal to the metal. They won the second quarter, 33-20. The third, 33-24. When the final buzzer had sounded, the score read 113-93.

The 93 points represented the second-lowest output of the season for Indiana. When these two teams previously met in early November, the Pacers racked up 129 points on the Pelicans defense.

So, a massive improvement, to say the least.

“That’s what it’s about for us,” Willie Green said. “The first day that I got here, I talked to Griff about defense. We have to continue to work and build a foundation defensively because it’s sustainable. Our offense can come and go. We didn’t shoot the ball great tonight, but we defended. We got stops, over and over again. We contested and rebounded the ball. Things that we said we wanted to work on this next set of 10 {games}.”

Spearheading that charge was Naji Marshall, who was designated the main task of slowing down Tyrese Haliburton. The soon-to-be All-Star point guard finished well below his season average norms, with 12 points and six assists; however, Marshall’s chase-down block of Chris Duarte will be remembered more by Smoothie King faithful.

Marshall’s offense, though, was the brightest beacon. It’s incredible to think about how many strides he’s made since his rookie season.

The third-year man poured in a career-high 22 points. He also knocked down four 3-pointers, which tied a career-high, and the nine outside attempts set a new personal best. He even Dirk Nowitzki’d a long-range jumper to beat the third-quarter buzzer.

Marshall, like Jose Alvarado, wasn’t drafted, but he’s as indispensable as anyone else to this roster thanks to all the improvements made since first arriving in New Orleans.

The high degree of confidence that he’s playing with is plain as day and it’s responsible for allowing him to fill a leading role when key players are out. Marshall’s making all the right reads, whether that’s driving through a seam of opposing defenses, shooting the open jumper or making a pass leading to a nice assist — with some of those dimes now showing serious flair!

“I’ve known that since I was a sophomore in high school, since I used to go to Xavier and play pick-up basketball,” Jaxson Hayes said. “Naji’s always been a great passer. That’s just part of his game. He’s a great playmaker, his great vision, I mean, he’s always been a good passer. I feel like he’s one of the main players on the team who is a pass-first type of guy.”

To be completely honest, having grown up and lived in Cincinnati for a good deal of my life, I always make it a point to watch a handful of Xavier games every season. I remember watching Marshall carve up opponents in transition and look for open teammates, but not like we witnessed tonight!

He’s really leveled up since his collegiate days.

Speaking of a few tiers above, the Pelicans made mincemeat of the Pacers on the glass, winning the rebounding battle 54-36. This led to New Orleans crushing Indiana 26-8 in second chance points. At the center of the demolition job was Jonas Valanciunas.

Valanciunas has raised his level of play in recent games with New Orleans’ biggest stars out of commission. He joked in postgame that he was forced to shoot layups because the 3-ball wasn’t there, but he singlehandedly destroyed the Pacers to the tune of 20 points and 12 rebounds in the lane.

It was precisely what we had hoped to see in the previous matchup, of Valanciunas taking advantage of a small-ball lineup, but tonight everything came together.

Devonte’ Graham posted a nice stat line of 11 points, three rebounds and four assists, but when he was on the court, the Pelicans were at their best, specifically with the ball and man movement.

Hayes was also instrumental in the victory, rejecting three Pacer attempts in the first half and finishing with 15 points and nine rebounds.

The most heart-warming moment of the night occurred when Kira Lewis Jr. hit a corner 3-ball for his first points of the game. It stuck out to me because the good-sized crowd all roared in healthy approval.

Lewis finished with seven points and had a steal. The glimpses were good. He honestly deserves playing time here and there because I believe he could be a secret weapon in the playoffs. His speed is that apparent and could be a difference maker.

If I had to guess, Lewis is faster now because his body is the strongest it’s ever been. His body has not only matured more with age, the rehab work has provided him another gear.

1 through 15, this Pelicans team is packed with talent — and talent that can win games. We saw yet another example of it in Monday’s victory over the Pacers. Rick Carlisle saw it too.

“This is a top team in the West,” the Indiana head coach said. “I don’t care if Zion’s (Williamson) playing or not. These guys have been beating good teams all year when he’s (Zion Williamson) been out.”

Despite not having five key contributors, the Pelicans were able to win a third consecutive game and grab sole possession of second place in the Western Conference standings.

Although Tony Montana guessed the wrong bird in Scarface, his words couldn’t have rang truer: “Manny, look at the pelican fly. Come on, pelican!”

All of the New Orleans Pelicans seem to be capable of flying!

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.