Naji Marshall takes the ball to the basket against Cleveland

Behind the Numbers presented by Entergy: Kings at Pelicans (4/12/21)

by Jim Eichenhofer
@Jim_Eichenhofer

A look at three key numbers related to Monday’s game at the Smoothie King Center between Sacramento and New Orleans (8 p.m. Central, Bally Sports New Orleans, ESPN Radio New Orleans 100.3 FM):

6: Consecutive games in which rookie two-way contract signee Naji Marshall has logged at least 22 minutes of playing time for New Orleans, including making three starts. The 23-year-old’s most important contribution during that span came Sunday, when he delivered 15 points, seven rebounds and four assists to help the Pelicans rally from behind and win at Cleveland. Stan Van Gundy called Marshall his team’s MVP of the victory, an assessment Marshall’s teammates must have agreed with, because they presented the Xavier (Ohio) product with the game ball in the locker room after the buzzer in Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse. When asked what he likes most about what Marshall has brought to the floor for New Orleans recently, Van Gundy responded, “Energy. (He) plays hard all the time.” Although the team’s offense often runs through Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram, Marshall has dished out three-plus assists in five straight games. He’s also gotten to the foul line 26 times over the recent six-game stretch.

6: Times in his last 10 games that Williamson has scored 30-plus points, including 38 points Sunday at Cleveland. The four highest-scoring games of his brief NBA career (a total of 72 regular season games) have all occurred over the past three weeks, starting with him depositing 39 points vs. Denver on March 26. Since then, he’s notched a 38-pointer vs. Dallas on March 27; 37 against Philadelphia on Friday; then his aforementioned 38 at Cleveland last night. If you split Williamson’s official appearances chronologically into a pair of 36-game sequences, the Duke product reached the 30-point mark six times in the first half, but did so a dozen times in the latter. He had three games of 30-plus points as a rookie, but now has 15 such outings in his second pro season.

8-3: New Orleans record since March 12 when both Williamson and Ingram play, including a 5-1 record in the Smoothie King Center (the lone home defeat during that span was March 26 vs. Denver). Although the Pelicans have been up and down all season – including since the All-Star break – they’ve been highly effective with both of their recent All-Stars on the floor over the last month. In the past 11 games in which the starting forwards have been in uniform, New Orleans has outscored opponents by an aggregate of 91 points, with all three losses coming by single-digit margins. The Pelicans have won four in a row with Williamson and Ingram available, beating Dallas, Boston, Philadelphia and Cleveland.

PREVIOUS GAME STARTING LINEUPS

SACRAMENTO (22-31, 12TH IN WEST)

Saturday loss at Utah

De’Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield, Harrison Barnes, Mo Harkless, Richaun Holmes

Notes: This group is 0-2 over the past two games, extending Sacramento’s current losing streak to six. … The most common starting lineup for Sacramento this season is 15-17, with Marvin Bagley at power forward instead of trade-deadline addition Harkless. Bagley is sidelined due to a broken hand. … In a smaller starting five with top rookie Tyrese Haliburton in the mix, the Kings are 7-5. … Sacramento is two games behind New Orleans, trying to snap a playoff drought that extends back to a 2006 postseason appearance.

NEW ORLEANS (24-29, 11TH IN WEST)

Sunday win at Cleveland

Eric Bledsoe, Naji Marshall, Brandon Ingram, Zion Williamson, Steven Adams

Notes: This group is 2-0. The Pelicans are 2-1 when rookie Marshall starts. … New Orleans has not had its primary starting lineup for either previous game this season vs. Sacramento. Nickeil Alexander-Walker started Jan. 17 in a win at Sacramento, while Jaxson Hayes took over at center for the injured Adams on Feb. 1 in a home defeat. … New Orleans is one game behind No. 10 Golden State (25-28) for the final play-in spot.

PELICANS KEYS TO VICTORY PRESENTED BY FANDUEL

DEFENSE ON DE’AARON

Kings PG Fox was in the discussion as a potential 2021 Western Conference All-Star, but if you assess him solely by how he’s performed against New Orleans this season, he’d be a first-team All-NBA lock. The lightning-quick Fox dropped in a then-career-high 43 points on Jan. 17 vs. New Orleans, then took over in the fourth quarter Feb. 1 to lift Sacramento to a road win in Louisiana. He averaged a ridiculous 40.5 points and 12.5 assists in the two games, making containing him a priority for the Pelicans’ defense.

MARSHALL PLAN

In the second game of a back-to-back, the Pelicans would be wise to follow the lead of their undrafted rookie on a two-way contract. Making his third NBA start, Marshall received praise Sunday from Van Gundy for providing much-needed energy after New Orleans came out of the locker room flat in Ohio. Hustle plays could be the difference in a Kings-Pelicans matchup that wasn’t settled until the fourth quarter in both prior meetings.

ROYAL RUMBLE

Speaking of energy, that’s one of Kings starting center Holmes’ biggest strengths. He and Adams will try to control the paint and the backboards, while Sacramento’s defense vs. Williamson could be a pivotal factor. In the Jan. 17 win for New Orleans, Williamson was highly efficient, shooting 13/15 from the field, but Sacramento limited him to 6/13 accuracy on Feb. 1. That was one of only six times Williamson has shot below 50 percent from the field in a game this season, out of his 48 contests.

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