It was readily apparent which team entered with a higher degree of confidence, but following a full 48-minute effort — one they’ve been seeking for weeks, the New Orleans Pelicans rediscovered their preferred style of play, tenacity and focus in a 131-126 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers.
The Lakers looked incredibly loose during pregame action. While running layup lines, they were dancing, joking and throwing fun passes for dunks — even LeBron James showed off some extra oomph by jamming one down with great authority.
The Pelicans, on the other hand, appeared much more business-like in their approach, mimicking a team that’s about to play in front of thousands on the road. Typically, there exists a more jovial spirit among this group regardless of circumstance.
Not surprisingly, the Lakers raced out to the early advantage. Although the Pelicans hung tough, even grabbing a 34-32 lead very early in the second quarter, the Lakers quickly reassumed control, utilizing the fast break well to build a 72-61 halftime lead.
Try as they might, the Pelicans failed to make significant inroads into their deficit despite an offense that found itself behind Brandon Ingram. However, that didn’t happen right away.
Ingram started incredibly slowly. He turned the ball over on New Orleans’ first offensive possession, was rejected at the rim on the next one and soon found himself on the bench 86 seconds into the game following his second personal foul.
He couldn’t have started any worse but what a turnaround it was subsequently. After failing to score in the first quarter, Ingram tallied 16 points in the second. He added 19 more after halftime. It was a vintage BI performance as he knocked down 11 of his 17 jumpers inside the 3-point arc.
“Just a will to win,” Ingram said. “Being out in that first quarter and having to sit the whole first quarter, having a chance to think about all the ways that I could be effective when I got back into the game. I just tried to do that. I tried to have no conscious tonight. I was making sure that my spirit wasn’t disturbed tonight, being out in that first quarter, and just came back to try and help my teammates the best way that I could.”
The Pelicans offense was humming beautifully throughout the third quarter, but they were still trading baskets with the Lakers much too often. Then the final 5.2 seconds of the frame seemed to change everything.
STEAL AND 3 FOR JOSE!! pic.twitter.com/Ur4mcSUbqz— New Orleans Pelicans (@PelicansNBA) February 5, 2023
That momentum carried over into the fourth. The Pelicans went on an 11-2 run that was capped off by several big Trey Murphy 3-pointers.
TRRRRRIIGGGGAAAA!!!!!!!!!!! @PelicansNBA | #Pelicans | :BSNO pic.twitter.com/OVTTZGjsGH— Bally Sports New Orleans (@BallySportsNO) February 5, 2023
Although the Lakers would go on to tie up the score a few times, the Smoothie King Center was alive and the Pelicans fed off the building’s energy. They started to win a lot of 50/50 balls, something that plagued them earlier.
It was also noticeable that the Pelicans failed to get the benefit of a home whistle. Kira Lewis Jr. and Herb Jones were ruled for blocking fouls when it appeared they had taken proper charges. Fouls appeared to be missed on a Murphy fast break dunk and then an Ingram lay-in. Meanwhile, the Lakers found the charity stripe much more frequently after taking contact.
At one point, there was an 18-11 discrepancy in personal fouls in favor of the Lakers. They did wind up shooting 13 more free throws for the game.
But neither bad bounces of the ball nor disadvantageous whistles could stop the Pelicans on this Saturday night. In addition to Ingram’s offensive explosion, Jones’ defense was as good as ever considering he was tasked with slowing down LeBron James, a legitimate MVP candidate over the last few months.
With LeBron boasting averages of 32.2 points on 52.3% shooting since Dec. 1, Jones limiting James to 27 points on 22 shot attempts is deserving of applause. He may not make his share of shots every night, but Herb’s defense is a necessary component of this Pelicans team.
Jonas Valanciunas was rolling towards a monster line when a knee injury forced him to leave the game late in the third quarter. He finished with 18 points, 14 rebounds and five assists in a mere 24 minutes of action.
Fortunately, there’s hope JV may not miss much time, if any.
Valanciunas was in the locker room post game talking and joking with teammates.— Andrew Lopez (@_Andrew_Lopez) February 5, 2023
Had no brace or crutches as he walked out.
Potentially a good sign for Pels. https://t.co/qcI0Hof8Xc
Hat tips also for CJ McCollum (23 points, seven assists), Jose Alvarado (18 points, two 3s), Trey Murphy (21 points, four 3s) and Larry Nance Jr. (10 points, nine rebounds, four assists).
The Pelicans probably don’t win this game without great efforts from the vast majority of the rotation, nor a superb all-around defensive effort in the final 12 minutes.
The Lakers were held to 20 points in the fourth quarter. After scoring 17 fast break points in the first half, they had only six following halftime.
“First and foremost, we just came out and played with a sense of urgency,” Willie Green said. “Then, defensively trying to take away their transition opportunities, I thought we did a better job in the second half. Offensively, we just continued to attack across the board. Every guy on our team that touched the floor came in and played with force and played with confidence. That is what is going to take for us to get over the hump.”
The Pelicans put an end to their miserable losing streak at 10 games. They also won at home for the first time since one month ago exactly, when they beat the Rockets on Jan. 4.
Let’s hope the Pelicans do not go as long between home wins again and they’ll receive their first opportunity to rectify that when they welcome the Sacramento Kings on Sunday.
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