Pelicans shootaround update: Nickeil Alexander-Walker aggressiveness led to big quarter vs. OKC

By piling up 22 points in Wednesday’s fourth quarter, New Orleans guard Nickeil Alexander-Walker became just the eighth player in franchise history to notch 20-plus in any period. The third-year pro’s big quarter probably would not have been possible without a shift in his approach on drives to the basket, a change encouraged by teammates.

“I told him, you’ve got to stop going in there looking to pass,” fellow Pelicans starting guard Devonte’ Graham said after Friday’s shootaround. “He was being aggressive, but he wasn’t having a score-first mentality. I told him to go shoot the ball - good shot, bad shot, we need you to score the ball. He started doing that. Coach (Willie Green) got on him in the huddle as well last game, and he responded really well.”

Alexander shot 6/11 from the field in the fourth quarter vs. Oklahoma City and went 9/11 at the foul line. He took zero free throws in the first three periods, but ended up setting career highs for a single game in makes and attempts.

Other notes from shootaround:

Asked how the Pelicans can stay positive amid a losing streak and 1-11 start to the season, Graham responded that Green gave players this message: “Keep your integrity. Don’t start pointing fingers. Keep fighting. Basically, we’ve been through worse things in our life than losing a basketball game. You can’t give up on your teammates. You can’t give up on the organization. It’s going to turn. It’s going to get better.”


Offensive efficiency rank: 21 (105.8)

Defensive efficiency rank: 5 (103.1)

Net rating: 9 (+2.7)

Pace: 11 (100.54)

Streak: Won 1

Go-to guy: There are many ways to describe Kevin Durant’s phenomenal start to 2021-22 – which has vaulted Brooklyn to a hot stretch despite the season-long absence of Kyrie Irving – but ESPN.com writer Zach Lowe chose “absolutely horrifying for the rest of the NBA” in a tweet. Durant has always been exceptionally efficient and one of the sport’s elite scorers, but through a dozen games, he’s averaging 29.5 points and shooting 59 percent from the field (40 percent on threes), while firing 19.1 attempts per game.

On the rise: It may not initially make much sense to call a 36-year-old player “on the rise,” but LaMarcus Aldridge has turned back the clock in Brooklyn, after he temporarily retired in April due to health concerns. Aldridge already has three games of 20-plus points this season off the bench, including averaging 20.0 points this week on 17/29 shooting. New Orleans fans are quite familiar with his mid-range mastery, from the 15 seasons he played in the Western Conference (nine with Portland, six with San Antonio).



Wednesday win at Orlando

James Harden, Joe Harris, Bruce Brown, Kevin Durant, Blake Griffin

Notes: This lineup is 7-2, the only combination used by Brooklyn more than twice this season. The Nets have relied on this group in each of the past nine games. … Over the first three games of the campaign, Nic Claxton started three times at center, while Jevon Carter made one start. … Brooklyn enters Friday a half game out of first place in the Eastern Conference, trailing Washington and Chicago (both 8-3).


Wednesday loss vs. Oklahoma City

Devonte’ Graham, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Garrett Temple, Josh Hart, Jonas Valanciunas

Notes: This lineup is 0-4, having been together for each of the past four games. This five-man unit has now played the second-most minutes on the season for New Orleans (65) and has a positive plus-minus. The combination of Graham, Alexander-Walker, Valanciunas, Brandon Ingram and Herbert Jones is 1-4 as a starting lineup and has logged 78 minutes. … New Orleans is four games behind No. 10 Portland (5-7) in the West. ... Ingram and Naji Marshall are listed as questionable for Friday's game.



Cue the dramatic pregame locker room speech from a classic sports movie: No one is going to give the Pelicans much of a chance of prevailing Friday against a team featuring multiple past MVPs and future Hall of Famers. Nobody believes in them. New Orleans must embrace the idea of playing inspired basketball for 48 minutes – but that’s also become something that needs to carry over against every opponent.


Green was understandably displeased after Wednesday’s loss to Oklahoma City, in which New Orleans handed the Thunder free throws by committing five technical fouls in the second quarter alone. The Pelicans need to keep their composure. It would also help to repeat only turning the ball over 10 times vs. OKC, which tied a season low for NOLA.


Valanciunas has strung together 10 consecutive double-doubles, including eight 20-10 games during that span. In Friday’s game, the 10-year NBA veteran may see some time matched up against three players with even more pro experience than Valanciunas, with Brooklyn able to throw big defenders like Aldridge, Griffin and Paul Millsap at the New Orleans center.