NOLA 2012 draftees finish strong in loss to Wizards
By: Jim Eichenhofer, Pelicans.com, @Jim_Eichenhofer
LAS VEGAS - From the opening tip-off of 2013 NBA Summer League, guard Austin Rivers was a consistent scorer for the New Orleans Pelicans, providing numerous signs that he’s now injury-free after frequent misfortune as a rookie. Meanwhile, after a slow start to summer league, Darius Miller emerged for the first time as a legitimate scoring option.
The pair of 2012 New Orleans draft picks continued their encouraging recent performance Friday, in the team’s finale in Las Vegas. In a 78-77 defeat against the Washington Wizards, Rivers tallied a game-high 23 points. Miller, who erupted for 23 points in Wednesday’s game vs. Denver, followed up that effort with 15 points on 7-for-12 shooting.
New Orleans (2-3) led 43-38 at halftime, but was outscored 19-10 in the third quarter to give up the lead. The Pelicans scratched and clawed throughout the fourth quarter, but a Washington free throw in the final seconds sealed the outcome by making it a four-point game. Brian Roberts provided one of the highlights of the week at the buzzer by banking in a 60-foot three-pointer, cutting the final deficit to one.
Roberts (13 points, 3-for-5 on three-pointers), who is the summer team’s most experienced player based on years as a pro, credited Rivers and Miller for helping keep New Orleans in the hunt all game. All five games the Pelicans played in Las Vegas were decided by single digits.
“It shows how hard he’s worked and what he’s done in the offseason,” Roberts said of Rivers. “And being healthy – that was the main thing for him. He’s had injuries here and there that have really prevented him from exploding. It was good for him. I’m happy that he played so well, and hopefully he can carry that into training camp.”
Miller has often been a reluctant offensive player since joining New Orleans in the second round of the 2012 draft. Over the past two games, the small forward averaged 19.0 points and did not hesitate to fire when he had openings.
“Darius played well,” Roberts said. “I think the game has gotten slower for him. He’s starting to make reads that maybe he couldn’t have done at this time last year. Darius has improved. He feels comfortable shooting the ball. We all know that he can shoot. He just has to exhale and kind of let the shot fly. That’s the result when he plays with confidence – most of the time it goes in.”
New Orleans was attempting to finish with a winning record in summer league for the first time since 2008, but was handed a second straight close defeat. The Pelicans will continue to have a presence in the city of Las Vegas next week, however, with Monty Williams, Anthony Davis, Jrue Holiday and Ryan Anderson all participating in USA Basketball's minicamp July 22-25.