The victory was New Orleans’ fourth in a row, tying their season-best run, and ensured that they would hang onto sole possession of 10th in the Western Conference standings.
Out of the gates, one wasn’t sure of a positive outcome for New Orleans. They began the game seemingly in a post-trade daze. That can happen considering the circumstances.
“Well, today, the whole day was kind of difficult for me especially, with Nickeil (Alexander-Walker), especially with Josh Hart,” Brandon Ingram said in postgame. “Being with him, being with Josh for five years and talking with Nickeil, trying to get him out of his own head and get him to playing well consistently. Josh Hart, he’s been there every single night, just playing extremely hard. He does everything that you ask out of him, on the defensive end, on the offensive end, and the same thing with Nickeil. We lost some great players, but they’re some really good guys.”
Saying goodbye to several beloved teammates, who honestly feel like family in a close-knit locker room, can be taxing mentally, making it difficult to get up for the pace of an NBA contest a few hours later.
The Pelicans fortunately got over their hangover quickly.
After trailing 20-10 from tip-off, New Orleans closed out the first frame on a 25-10 run. They never trailed for the rest of the game.
Although the Pelicans couldn’t quite put the Rockets away for good until the fourth quarter, it was a good win, especially in front of two former teammates.
Josh Hart and Nickeil Alexander-Walker, who were both a part of New Orleans’ trade package to Portland for CJ McCollum, Larry Nance Jr. and Tony Snell, decided to take in tonight’s action sitting courtside.
At the halftime buzzer, I observed Jose Alvarado and Naji Marshall both dap up and hug Josh Hart before heading back to the locker room for intermission.
“I’ve never seen anything like that before,” Willie Green said in postgame. “Number one, it’s a credit to God and how he’s blessing our team, our organization, and the character that we have in our locker room. Those guys mean a lot to us, Josh (Hart) and Nickeil (Alexander-Walker) and Didi (Louzada) and Sato (Tomáš Satoranský). To have guys show up to a game after they’ve been traded to support their brothers, that’s what we’re building. Just that connectivity.”
These two guys are going to be missed by so many in New Orleans, but Green made a good point: evidence of a growing culture can be witnessed in a lot of areas right now, including how Hart and NAW showed their support for former teammates by sitting courtside.
Brandon Ingram paced the Pelicans all night, knocking down seven of his eight field goal attempts in the first half, to finish with 26 points, two rebounds, two assists and three blocks.
In his fourth start of the season, Jaxson Hayes had 14 points and seven rebounds.
Herb Jones collect the first double-double of his career (10 points, 11 rebounds, three steals) and Jonas Valanciunas went for 13 and eight.
Jose Alvarado was excellent off the bench (12 points, three assists, two steals), but it felt as though Naji Marshall outplayed him slightly (14 points, three rebounds, two assists, two steals).
Naji’s energy was good, starting in his first minute of action. He was enjoying himself so much and playing with the type of flair not seen since summer league, that on one occasion I caught him exchanging words with Hart and NAW.
Kevin Porter Jr. led Houston with 27 points, five assists (seven turnovers too), and Christian Wood finished with 19 points and nine rebounds.
Up next, the Pelicans welcome the Miami Heat on Thursday. Five more home games remain before the All-Star break. It’s fun to ponder how many of those will New Orleans have win with McCollum next to them.