At the morning shootaround, New Orleans sharpshooter Matt Ryan described the atmosphere of In-Season Tournament games as similar to the NBA playoffs. While the stakes weren’t quite as high as the postseason Friday, the Pelicans played with the intensity of a team hungry to punch a ticket to Las Vegas next month in the inaugural event. Facing the defending NBA champions – a Denver squad that entered Friday’s action boasting this season’s best record – New Orleans built a 20-point lead in the second half and made enough plays in clutch time to prevail. The Pelicans essentially kept their In-Season Tournament hopes alive; a loss would’ve meant almost certain elimination. New Orleans used an 8-0 run to ice the victory in the final minutes, after the visitors had crept to within a possession of the lead.
NEW ORLEANS 2-1, +23
Denver 2-1, +9
Houston 1-1, -3
Dallas 1-2, -14
LA Clippers 1-2, -15
Tuesday: No games
Friday: Denver at Houston, 7 p.m.
Friday: NEW ORLEANS at LA Clippers, 9:30 p.m.
Nov. 28: Houston at Dallas, 7:30 p.m.
Frontcourt comes through.
While Denver had two-time league MVP and 2023 Finals MVP Nikola Jokic at center and he put up a gaudy stat line of 26, 16 and 18 (the latter tying his career high in assists), New Orleans countered with stellar performances by its entire frontcourt Friday. Starters Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram and Jonas Valanciunas each scored 20-plus points, and reserve forward Naji Marshall was red-hot from three-point range (12 points, 4/5 from deep), not normally his forte but a huge plus Friday.
Dyson Daniels progression.
The second-year guard from Australia has compiled a stellar week, checking a bunch of boxes and contributing at both ends of the floor. On Friday, the No. 8 overall pick from the 2022 draft began threatening a triple-double in the second half, posting 10 points, nine rebounds, seven assists and three steals. New Orleans was plus-12 with him on the court for 33 minutes. The reconfigured starting lineup over the past two games has clicked in several stretches, with Daniels’ versatility factoring greatly into that success.
There was some talk when the In-Season Tournament format was announced that NBA coaches might use fewer players or give extended minutes to starters for games that are a bit more important than a standard regular season contest. Willie Green did that to an extent Friday, only using eight players during the majority of the night. Every sub who saw significant action made an impact, including Ryan, Marshall and rookie Jordan Hawkins.
12/22: New Orleans three-point shooting, highlighted by an outstanding 8/12 night by the bench. Denver shot just 10/40 from beyond the arc.
11: Pelicans turnovers, a very good (low) number. The hosts also dished out 32 assists for a nice ratio in that category. Ingram led with eight helpers, followed by Dyson Daniels with seven and Williamson’s six.
12: Denver attempts from the foul line. New Orleans did a good job of not fouling (only 13 personals), despite Jokic’s elite offensive prowess of scoring and finding teammates under the hoop.
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