Play-in tournament history is repeating itself Wednesday for Jonas Valanciunas, who for a second straight year is preparing to start at center for a ninth-seeded Western Conference club hosting 10th-seeded San Antonio.
Last May, the results were spectacular individually and team-wise, as Valanciunas dominated the Spurs with a 23-point, 23-rebound, three-block performance, spearheading Memphis to a 100-96 victory. The Grizzlies later advanced to the West playoffs and a matchup against the conference’s top seed (Utah).
New Orleans would love a repeat of that scenario this week, but first the Pelicans must defeat a Spurs team that has given them problems in 2021-22, including San Antonio prevailing twice since mid-February in the Smoothie King Center.
Other notes from shootaround:
Like Valanciunas, CJ McCollum has produced a big game in a previous play-in tournament game. In 2020, McCollum racked up 29 points on 11/19 shooting to help Portland post a 126-122 victory over Memphis. Valanciunas went for 22 points, 17 rebounds and six assists for the Grizzlies. …
Pelicans guard Devonte’ Graham on New Orleans’ focus against San Antonio’s Dejounte Murray: “You’ve got to contain him. Try to make it tough on him, try to get the ball out of his hands obviously, and make someone else beat you. We want to make it as hard as possible.” …
Larry Nance Jr. on how to mentally approach a game with huge stakes like Wednesday’s contest: “You want it to affect you to a certain degree. This time of year is special and different. If you haven’t been there, you don’t necessarily (understand) that right away. You want to make it a big deal without making it too big. Just make sure guys take it seriously.”
Brandon Ingram is listed as probable for Wednesday’s game. He said following Tuesday’s practice that he’ll play against San Antonio.
PREVIOUS GAME STARTING LINEUPS
SAN ANTONIO (34-48, 10TH IN WEST)
Sunday loss at Dallas
Dejounte Murray, Josh Primo, Devin Vassell, Keldon Johnson, Jakob Poeltl
Reserves: Josh Richardson, Tre Jones, Zach Collins, Keita Bates-Diop, Joe Wieskamp, Jock Landale, Devontae Cacok
Notes: This starting group went 3-3, with all of those appearances occurring late in the regular season after Primo was moved into a first-string role. … Murray was sidelined for five consecutive games prior to returning Sunday against the Mavericks. … San Antonio used 23 different starting lineups, with the most common going 11-13 but featuring Derrick White (traded to Boston) and Doug McDermott (season-ending severe ankle injury).
NEW ORLEANS (36-46, 9TH IN WEST)
Sunday loss vs. Golden State
CJ McCollum, Naji Marshall, Trey Murphy III, Jaxson Hayes, Willy Hernangomez
Reserves: Gary Clark, Tony Snell, Garrett Temple, Jose Alvarado, Jared Harper, Larry Nance Jr.
Notes: This starting group went 0-1, together only for Game 82 as the Pelicans gave several key players a night off for rest and recovery heading into the postseason. … New Orleans’ preferred starting five went 7-3, part of a 16-12 record with Hayes as a starter this season. … Ingram did not play in either March game against San Antonio, but McCollum played in both contests, a 33-point Pelicans win and a four-point loss.
FANDUEL KEYS TO THE GAME
DEFENSE ON DEJOUNTE
San Antonio’s first-time All-Star point guard is the engine for the silver and black at both ends of the floor. Murray posted a pair of triple-doubles vs. New Orleans this season and nearly averaged one over the four games (18.3 ppg, 9.8 rpg, 10.0 apg). The Pelicans must keep the Seattle native and past NBA All-Defense selection from having another big night.
On paper, New Orleans is a significantly better rebounding team than San Antonio, ranking third among the 30 NBA teams in board percentage (51.8) compared to the Spurs at No. 18 in that stat (49.4). However, San Antonio won the rebounding battle twice against New Orleans this season, one facet of its 3-1 season-series victory.
MATCHUP TO WATCH
They may not go head-to-head much if at all Wednesday, but one X-factor could be the performance of former University of Alabama teammates Jones and Primo, in the postseason debut for both. Jones started 69 games for New Orleans, while Primo only recently became a San Antonio starter, but closed the regular season in strong fashion.