Naji Marshall #8 of the New Orleans Pelicans dribbles the ball during the game against the Indiana Pacers.

Pelicans practice report: Naji Marshall, Jaxson Hayes among various Pelicans who thrived in win over Pacers

Before the cameras and audio recorders started rolling at Monday’s morning shootaround, a New Orleans player wandered over near a small media gathering and said “We’re still going to win,” alluding to the Pelicans being severely shorthanded lineup-wise for their game vs. Indiana on Monday night. It was less a guarantee than a proclamation of confidence, an assurance that New Orleans was not daunted by the circumstances of playing without five key contributors (Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram, Herb Jones, Trey Murphy, Dyson Daniels).

Roughly six hours later, the Pelicans emphatically backed up that pregame statement by swarming the Pacers, building a 29-point lead and winning 113-93. Five New Orleans players reached double figures in scoring, while Indiana was held to 35 percent shooting in the first half, digging a hole from which the Pacers never recovered.

In addition to that impressive victory itself, there was more good news for the Pelicans at Tuesday’s practice, as Williamson, Murphy and Daniels all participated. Williamson sounded very encouraged that he will be able to return to game action Wednesday vs. Minnesota, saying, “I’m feeling great. I’ve got to play. I sat on the sideline enough last year.”

“We missed them,” second-year head coach Willie Green said of the trio. “It’s not ideal when guys are out, but it’s a part of life, a part of sports. Guys get injured. Guys have sickness every now and then.”

In their absence, forward Naji Marshall played one of the best games of his three-year NBA career (22 points, his pro high). Jaxson Hayes followed up his vital 21-point performance at Oklahoma City with 15 points, nine rebounds and three blocks vs. Indiana, this time as a starter who logged 31 minutes. Kira Lewis Jr. provided a spark off the bench (seven points in 17 minutes) in his first home game in more than a year.

“We believe in every guy on our team,” Green said of the teamwide contributions. “Every guy who walks in this door has an opportunity to play. It’s a long season. There are going to be moments like last night, or in Oklahoma, where you have guys out. Guys have to stay working. Preparation is key, so that they can take advantage of it individually but also collectively.”

Other notes from Tuesday’s practice:

Williamson was forced to watch during the team’s run to the 2022 play-in tournament and playoffs, recognizing how much talent the Pelicans possess. That’s been invaluable during their 21-12 start to this season and climb to second place in the Western Conference. “I saw it last year and I've seen it since training camp,” Williamson said of NOLA’s depth. “We had (10) guys (Monday), and at no point was it, ‘Let’s try to make it a game.’ It was, ‘Nah, we’re about to go out here and win this game and execute.’ We have a deep team. So many different pieces that can be utilized on any given night.” …

Williamson on Hayes’ recent boost: “Jax is a unique athlete. Seven foot, very agile, super athletic. He’s been working on his perimeter game. I’m excited to see the growth of Jaxson.” …

The spirit and attitude New Orleans has displayed is often personified by the aggressiveness of Marshall and second-year pro Jose Alvarado. Williamson: “(Marshall) that’s my dawg. Naji’s confidence is just growing and growing. You can see it in his play. As a team, we’re behind him. Having a guy like him, Jose, dudes that just bring the energy every game, whether they play five minutes or 30, they’re the same every game.”