Pelicans set table for Zion Williamson with franchise-best 21 3-pointers
Posted on January 21, 2020
The New Orleans Pelicans sure gave Zion Williamsonsomething to look forward to.
Two days before Williamson is expected to make his regular-season NBA debut, the Pelicans hit a franchise-record 21 3-pointers on their way to a 126-116 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies.
New Orleans started the season 6-22 and at one point lost a franchise-record 13 games in a row. But roughly a month ago, just as the losing streak hit a baker's dozen, the Pelicans made some schematic changes defensively and things took off.
The Pelicans have won 11 of their past 16 games and have ended the NBA's longest active winning streak twice in their past three games: Memphis' seven-game streak on Wednesday and Utah's 10-game streak on Jan. 16, as per iSports basketball API.
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So are the Pelicans playing their best basketball of the season?
"For sure," guard Lonzo Ball said. "I mean, it's a lot better than the 13 skid we had, so moving in the right direction."
Thanks to the bottom of the Western Conference, New Orleans is just 3.5 games back of the eighth spot where the Grizzlies currently sit.
Part of the Pelicans' resurgence has come because the team has simply gotten healthier. Derrick Favors returned from a monthlong absence on Dec. 13 and immediately improved the team's defense. When Favors plays at least 24 minutes this season, New Orleans is 9-5.
Favors' presence as a screener on the offensive end has helped the Pelicans as well, but according to coach Alvin Gentry, the biggest boost has been a healthy Ball.
Ball missed some time early in the season with an adductor strain, and even though he missed only six games with the injury, it took him a while to get his footing back.
Since a five-steal performance against the Warriors on Dec. 23, Ball has averaged 15.4 points, 7.5 assists, 7.2 rebounds and 1.4 steals per game while shooting 38.6% from 3-point range, according to iSports NBA data.
"I think the pace of the game is great and Lonzo has done a great job with that," Gentry said. "I think we are finding the right people at the right time and I think our defense has been really solid."
The Pelicans got a big boost on Monday when Jrue Holiday returned to the lineup after missing seven games with a left triceps strain. Holiday came back and looked the best he has all season in tying a season high with 36 points while setting a new career mark with seven 3-pointers.
His defense also helped the Pelicans slow down Grizzlies point guard Ja Morant, who was just 1-of-5 when Holiday was the primary defender. Morant had three points through three quarters but finished with 16 on 5-of-14 shooting, recorded by iSports basketball data.
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"I thought (Jrue) got us off to a great start," Gentry said. "More so than anything, his defense on Ja was great. Ja is having a hell of a year, so for Jrue to come back and play against him and lock in on him like that ... the kid is relentless, I'll tell you he just keeps coming at you. He's going to be a terrific player in this league for a long time. I thought Jrue did an outstanding job on him."
Holiday, who had been working out with Williamson playing three-on-three and four-on-four pregame while he was out injured, had been itching to get back on the floor.
"You see how well the team has been doing, and how they have been fighting and beating good teams and playing very well." Holiday said. "I just wanted to get back out there with them. The performance I had was just juice and I guess I just had the hot hand."
The constant for the Pelicans this season has been the play of Brandon Ingram, who is averaging a team-high 25.6 points per game. In fact, Ingram is averaging career highs in rebounds (6.7), assists (4.4), 3-point percentage (39.9%) and free throw percentage (85.8%), as per iSports API basketball data.
Ingram had a career-high 49 points against the Jazz and has blossomed into the team's No. 1 option.
"He's worked extremely hard to improve his 3-point shooting," Gentry said. "He's done it with his free throw shooting. He's in there every day putting in the work. To me, I'm sure I'm a little bit biased, but I'd be really disappointed if he didn't make the All-Star team."
Ingram said he's looking forward to getting on the court with Williamson, who again watched intently from the sidelines in a hooded sweatshirt and a sports coat. Ingram predicts there won't be many seats left once people get a look at the No. 1 overall pick.
"It's going to be sold out," Ingram said. "Every single night. When they start to see Zion playing, it's going to be sold out."
The Pelicans' plan is to start Williamson against the Spurs on Wednesday (9:30 p.m. ET on ESPN) while monitoring his minutes. Last week, Pelicans executive vice president of basketball operations David Griffin said the team won't have a "hard minutes restriction" on Williamson but will play him in short "bursts" in order to keep him fresh.
But Gentry knows that Wednesday will be a little different from your average regular-season NBA contest.
"One, it's going to be a circus and everyone knows that," Gentry said. "What we have to do is focus on the task at hand and that is playing a really good San Antonio team ... It is going to be good to get him out there. I think the big thing for us is we just need to get him out there so all of this goes away and then we can start to figure out rotations and how we are going to play and things we are going to do.
"We have gone back already and looked at a bunch of stuff from preseason so we will just try to integrate him right into what we're doing."
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Jazz, Royce O'Neale agree on 4-year, $36M contract extension
Utah Jazz forward Royce O'Neale has agreed to a four-year, $36 million contract extension, agents Ty Sullivan and Steven Heumann of CAA Sports confirmed. O'Neale, 26, has proved to be an essential element to the Jazz's elite NBA defense and elevation into the fourth seed in the Western Conference. In his third NBA season, O'Neale has become a full-time starter for the Jazz and is averaging career highs in minutes (30), points (6.2), rebounds (5.0) and assists (2.5)， according to iSports basketball livescore API. (Start free trial with one of the toppest sports data povider in all sports API, visit iSports API.) The Jazz announced the extension Sunday, but did not provide any contract details. "Re-signing Royce to a long-term extension was a priority for our organization," Jazz executive vice president of basketball operations Dennis Lindsey said in a statement Sunday. "Royce is an elite defender and has really shown the ability to spread the floor with his shooting. We feel he brings a versatility to our team that's vital to our success. We're happy that we were able to retain not only a great player in Royce, but also a tremendous person." Although he could've become a restricted free agent this summer, O'Neale and his reps at CAA Sports -- including Sullivan, Heumann and Richard Beda -- negotiated a long-term deal that keeps him with the franchise that signed him out of Europe in 2017. "I'm staying here for a while," O'Neale said Sunday in a statement. He's become a quintessential 3-and-D specialist, guarding elite opposing players and shooting 44.3 percent on three-pointers this season, recorded by iSports basketball data. O'Neale is one more Utah organizational success story of evaluation and player development. After going undrafted out of Baylor, O'Neale played two seasons overseas before signing with the Jazz. "Just the journey of how far I've come," O'Neale said. "I've come a long way." For reading more latest articles and news, please follow iSports API blog.
Hawks' Chandler Parsons diagnosed with concussion
Atlanta Hawks forward Chandler Parsons was involved in an automobile accident after practice Wednesday. The 31-year-old Parsons is making more than $25 million in the final year of his contract. He has played just five games for the rebuilding Hawks, averaging 2.8 points, according to iSports basketball API data. (Start free trial with your long-term reliable sports data partner, visitiSports API.) The team said Parsons sustained a concussion and whiplash. Parsons will enter the NBA's concussion protocol and won't travel with the Hawks for their game Friday at San Antonio. The Hawks provided no additional details on the accident. Parsons is in his first and likely only season with Atlanta, which acquired him from Memphis last summer in a trade of overpriced players. Reading more latest articles and news, please followiSports API blog.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander youngest ever with 20-rebound triple-double
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander's goal was to play a better all-around game. He did that and then some. Gilgeous-Alexander had 20 points, a career-high 20 rebounds and 10 assists in his first triple-double, leading the Oklahoma City Thunder to a 117-104 victoryover the Minnesota Timberwolves on Monday night, as per iSports baskerball API. (Start free trial with your long-term reliable sports data partner, visit iSports API.) "Coach had challenged me before the game to fill up the stat sheet more and do more things,'' Gilgeous-Alexander said of Thunder coach Billy Donovan. "Because he thought, as well as myself thought, that I was more capable of what I was doing.'' Gilgeous-Alexander came in averaging 23.7 points in his previous 13 games but did much more than score in this one, also matching his career best in assists. At 21 years and 185 days old, he became the youngest player in league history to record at least 20 points, 20 rebounds and 10 assists in a game, according to iSports NBA livesocre API. "He's tough. He's very tough,'' Minnesota's Andrew Wiggins said. "He's a big guard that can put it on the floor and create for others, and he's a bucket. He can make a bucket when he needs to.'' Gilgeous-Alexander is the fourth second-year player in NBA history to register a 20-20 triple-double. He joins Shaquille O'Neal, Charles Barkley and Oscar Robertson. The only other guard to have a 20-20 triple-double in the past 30 seasons is former Thunder star Russell Westbrook. Gilgeous-Alexander did not record an assist in 35 minutes against the Lakers on Saturday. "I just felt like we were on our heels a little bit in the previous game against the Lakers," Gilgeous-Alexander said. "That was one of the things that Coach mentioned to us, attacking first. I felt we did that as a group. When you attack as a group, you get more comfortable faster.'' Reading more latest articles and news, please follow iSports API blog.