Pelicans shootaround update: Jonas Valanciunas to return to lineup Thursday

Willie Green described Jonas Valanciunas' health status during New Orleans’ four-game West Coast road trip as “banged up,” which led to the starting center sitting out Tuesday’s win at Sacramento due to right ankle soreness. The good news is Valanciunas will be back in the lineup Thursday vs. Portland, saying after this morning’s shootaround, “I will play tonight.”

Asked about his ankle, he responded, “It feels good. As good as it can be.”

Meanwhile, Brandon Ingram (right hamstring tightness) was listed this morning as doubtful with right hamstring tightness. Ingram has played in five consecutive games, but was sidelined for the previous 10 contests due to a hamstring injury.

Other notes from shootaround:

Having guaranteed a spot in the Western Conference play-in tournament, the objective for New Orleans now is to lock up the No. 9 seed and start the postseason at home.

Valanciunas on the importance of staying in New Orleans to face San Antonio: “Playing in front of the home crowd is always an advantage. We’re trying everything to bring this to New Orleans and play the first play-in in New Orleans. We’ve still got three games left. If we win those three, we’re good.”

Larry Nance Jr. said, “It’s massive. If we can go into the play-in coming off a 3-1 road trip, and hopefully pick up some of these last few games, the crowd’s energy is going to be a must-have.” …

Nance said he expects to play in all three remaining games. He did not play in the second game of a back-to-back vs. the Lakers on March 27, but otherwise has played in six contests since his March 24 debut.


Offensive efficiency rank: 26 (108.0)

Defensive efficiency rank: 29 (116.0)

Net rating: 28 (-8.0)

Pace: 13 (98.82)

Streak: Lost 8

Go-to guy: It would be guard Anfernee Simons, but he’s sidelined by injury. It could be former Pelicans wing Josh Hart, but he’s also out of action. Since March 15, center Drew Eubanks leads Portland in scoring at 16.4 points per game, followed closely by Ben McLemore (16.3). Eubanks went for 21 points and nine rebounds vs. New Orleans on March 30.

On the rise: Rookie wing Keon Johnson is averaging a team-best 19.0 points over Portland’s last three games, shooting 52 percent from the field and 50 percent on three-pointers, going 10/20. The Tennessee product tallied a career-high 20 points at San Antonio on Friday.



Tuesday loss at Oklahoma City

Kris Dunn, Keon Johnson, C.J. Elleby, Greg Brown, Drew Eubanks

Notes: This group is 0-1 and became starting lineup No. 33 used by Portland this season. … Portland’s most common starting five went 9-8 and featured a backcourt of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. … If the season ended today, the Trail Blazers would have the No. 6 pre-lottery slot. The Pelicans (by virtue of the Lakers) would be in the No. 8 pre-lotto slot.


Tuesday win at Sacramento

CJ McCollum, Herbert Jones, Brandon Ingram, Jaxson Hayes, Willy Hernangomez

Notes: This group is 1-0 and became starting lineup No. 22 used by New Orleans this season. The Pelicans are 7-3 with the same combination but with Valanciunas at center. … New Orleans is 18-21 at home this season, but 18-15 in Louisiana after a 0-6 start. … The 7-8 play-in matchup in the West will feature the eighth-seeded Clippers on the road, likely visiting Minnesota (Denver is the only other possible No. 7 seed).



New Orleans can nearly lock up the No. 9 seed and be home vs. San Antonio next week simply by winning its two remaining Smoothie King Center games vs. Portland and Golden State. Even if the Pelicans drop their road game at Memphis and finish 2-0, San Antonio would need to go 3-0 against a challenging schedule (at Minnesota, vs. Golden State, at Dallas) to claim the 9 spot.


The Pelicans gave the upset-minded Trail Blazers some hope March 30 by starting sluggishly and trailing 54-51 at halftime. New Orleans has been forced to overcome a few so-so first halves lately in order to get wins, including being up just 60-57 at the break in Sacramento on Tuesday.


McCollum was red-hot in the first quarter March 30 against his former team at Moda Center, dropping in 14 points. He finished with 25 points on 9/16 shooting, including 3/6 three-point accuracy. The nine-year NBA veteran gets his second crack at the Trail Blazers on Thursday.