Pelicans (19-12), Spurs (10-21)
New Orleans has never swept a season series from San Antonio in two-plus decades since the franchise arrived in the Crescent City, but the Pelicans are one step away from doing so after topping the Spurs on Thursday. The Pelicans didn’t have two starters (Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram), nor one of their most valuable reserves (Larry Nance Jr.), but still administered another relatively comfortable triumph against their Southwest Division counterparts, after prevailing in Texas recently by margins of 19 and 18 points. The final meeting between the teams is March 21 in the Smoothie King Center.
The Pelicans will enter Friday’s back-to-back in Oklahoma City just a half-game out of first place in the Western Conference, despite having several stretches where they had to compensate for key player absences. As second-year head coach Willie Green described after Thursday’s win, “When guys are out, I think the beauty in what we’re able to see is that all of our guys, they step up. They enjoy these moments, these opportunities (to contribute more). I’ve said it before, some people look at it as obstacles, but our guys relish these moments. We do a great job of preparing and we go out and try to execute for 48 minutes.”
IT WAS OVER WHEN…
CJ McCollum got red-hot in the fourth quarter, drilling jumpers from all over the floor to reach the 40-point mark on a transition trey with 3:31 left. That put New Orleans in front 119-106 after San Antonio had refused to go away in the second half.
PELICANS PLAYER OF THE GAME
McCollum has turned in a below-average shooting season over the first two months of 2022-23, particularly by his elite standards, but he appears to be breaking out over the past week. Thursday was his best game of the recent run yet, as he poured in 40 points on 14/27 shooting from the field (7/14 on three-pointers). The 10-year NBA veteran became the 10th player in New Orleans team history to record a game of 40-plus points. McCollum has sank three, four, six and seven three-pointers in his past four outings, respectively.
CJ McCollum (40pts) Highlights vs. San Antonio Spurs 12/22/2022
BY THE NUMBERS
9: Double-digit victories for New Orleans over San Antonio in the 19 NBA seasons from 2002-21.
3: Double-digit victories for New Orleans over San Antonio in the 2022 calendar year, starting with a March rout last season in Texas. It came within a point Thursday of making that four.
55.1, 18.1: Combined average points and rebounds missing from the New Orleans rotation with Williamson, Ingram and Nance sidelined by injuries Thursday.
REVISITING FANDUEL KEYS TO THE GAME
NEXT FORWARD UP
Several Pelicans took advantage of the opportunity to log more minutes, including a surprising name or two, such as Jaxson Hayes ending a stretch in which he had rarely seen the floor (nine DNPs in the previous 10 games). Naji Marshall improved to 3-2 as a starter.
After Devin Vassell averaged 25.5 points vs. New Orleans in two previous meetings in Texas, the Pelicans did significantly better in limiting the third-year wing. Vassell did not reach double digits in scoring until around the 4:00 mark of the fourth quarter, shooting 3/12 prior to that mid-range jumper.
MATCHUP TO WATCH
At center, Jonas Valanciunas didn’t reprise his staggering production from Monday’s game vs. Milwaukee (37 points, seven treys), but still outperformed San Antonio counterpart Jakob Poeltl. Even without Williamson barreling to the rim, the Pelicans held an advantage around the basket (60-54 in paint points, 46-44 in rebounds).
Jonas Valanciunas (16 points) Game Highlights vs. San Antonio Spurs 12/22/2022
There are only seven Thursday games during the New Orleans regular season, meaning the fans had a chance to build a nearly insurmountable lead with another victory (having already won twice). However, Herb Jones prevented that from happening, surpassing his season average by knocking down a pair of three-pointers (he entered Thursday at 0.9 makes per game), granting radio sideline reporter Erin Summers her first win. That makes the season standings: Fans 2, Erin 1, Jim 0. Next Thursday game: Feb. 2 at Dallas.