The San Antonio Spurs do not beat themselves. It’s a mantra that Willie Green, his players, and everyone across the league knows all too well.
The New Orleans Pelicans are going to have to go out Wednesday night and play very sound basketball because the Spurs are not going to turn the ball over, award numerous trips to the free throw line or fail to defend and hustle at a high level. This doesn’t even factor the curveball adjustments Gregg Popovich is likely to make.
With such a young squad that’s never experienced a professional postseason game, butterflies are going to be understandable for the Pelicans. But they must find a way to keep their composure and get off to a good start.
Thank goodness this New Orleans team has CJ McCollum, Jonas Valanciunas and Larry Nance Jr.
McCollum and Valanciunas, in particular, have enjoyed multiple postseason runs. Perhaps more importantly for tonight’s contest, they’ve also played big parts on winning squads in the play-in tournament.
“It’s extremely important to have that type of experience on this team” Willie Green said after yesterday’s practice. “They’re already talking to the guys about what it’s going to be like. The stakes are a bit higher, a little bit more intense. So that’s when you’ve got to take a few deep breaths and just do what you do at the highest level possible.”
McCollum, who carries averages of 20.0 points, 4.2 rebounds and 2.8 assists across 57 playoff games, poured in 29 points to help the Trail Blazers advance from the play-in game against the Grizzlies inside the Orlando bubble.
Valanciunas possesses even more play-in experience, losing to the McCollum and the Trail Blazers in that game but assisting the Grizzlies to two victories in last season’s play-in tournament. Through three play-in appearances, the New Orleans center is averaging 18.0 points (on 55.3% shooting from the field), 17.3 rebounds and 3.3 assists.
Look for Valanciunas and McCollum to try and set the tone early, thereby allowing the rest of the Pelicans, from Brandon Ingram on down the roster, to find their rhythm as the game progresses.
For more on tonight’s matchup, please give our preview a read!
When: April 13, 2022, 8:30 p.m.
Where to watch: ESPN
Where to listen: ESPN 100.3 FM