Nickeil Alexander-Walker shoots a layup at Dallas

Double-digit win in Dallas part of significantly more competitive stretch by New Orleans

by Jim Eichenhofer

For those who watched New Orleans face Dallas twice over a three-day span this week, it was a bit difficult to believe the same rosters showed up Friday to hoop at American Airlines Center as the ones that competed Wednesday in the Smoothie King Center. The Pelicans were pounded by 32 points on their home floor, but answered two days later to beat the Mavericks in convincing fashion by 16.

A similar dichotomy is also beginning to emerge for New Orleans (7-18) in general – the Pelicans began the season 1-12, but are 6-6 since. They lost nine of their first 10 games on the road, but are 3-1 in away games since, with all three wins coming against tough Western Conference hosts (Utah, Clippers, Dallas).

Despite not having 2021 All-Star forward Zion Williamson in the lineup, New Orleans has been significantly more competitive since 2020 All-Star forward Brandon Ingram returned from a hip injury a dozen games ago. At 4-2 since a 25-point home rout over Washington on Thanksgiving Eve, the Pelicans’ next goal is to fluctuate less in effectiveness on a nightly basis, having lost games by 32 and 22 during the same timeframe.

“(We had a) big shot in Utah to win the game (by Devonte’ Graham), then beating L.A. the way were able to beat them there, I think the biggest thing for us is the consistency,” said Pelicans guard Garrett Temple, who started Friday and made a series of key plays to help seal the win over the Mavs. “You can have those games, but that home game against Dallas, if we’re going to lose, we can’t lose by 30 or 40. I think that’s the next step for us. But definitely as a team, we’re growing in confidence and we’re ready to try to get two on this road trip (Sunday at Houston).”

“It builds momentum,” Ingram said of the string of wins over quality opponents. “We have to figure out how we can be consistent every single game. Every game is different, in how (opponents) play us.”

A big factor in Friday’s win was New Orleans’ balance, including nine different Pelicans tallying at least five points. Temple (nine rebounds, three assists, two blocks) made arguably his most important contribution of 2021-22, as did rookie Trey Murphy III (nine points, 3/3 three-point shooting). Herbert Jones (13 points) and Nickeil Alexander-Walker (nine points) helped stretch New Orleans’ lead in the fourth quarter to a comfortable margin, after Dallas made a mini-run.

The Pelicans finished with 30 assists (Ingram dished out a career-best 12 dimes, one of nine different players to record at least one assist), emblematic of a collective approach in which New Orleans didn’t require big offensive nights from second- and third-leading scorers Jonas Valanciunas (14 points, 5/11 shooting) or Graham (13 points, 5/11 shooting) to prevail.

“It’s the way we want to play,” Pelicans head coach Willie Green said of the team’s unselfishness and getting all five players involved in the attack. “It’s fun to play that way. I believe the guys enjoy it. Everyone feels a part of the game when the ball is moving and hopping.”

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