Lonzo Ball dribbles against Wizards defender Raul Neto

Pelicans shootaround update presented by Entergy: Lonzo Ball returning to action in D.C.

by Jim Eichenhofer

New Orleans only has 17 games remaining to make a final push for the postseason, but the Pelicans received good news Friday morning, when starting point guard Lonzo Ball told media members that he’ll be on the floor against the Washington Wizards (6 p.m., Bally Sports New Orleans, 100.3 FM). New Orleans (25-30) has minimal margin for error with exactly one month left in the 72-game schedule and has struggled shooting-wise during Ball’s absence, but the fourth-year pro is back after missing the past four games and 11 of the club’s last 14 contests.

“I’ll play tonight,” Ball said on a Zoom call from Washington, D.C. “It was determined this morning, after shootaround. So I’ll be ready to go.”

The 23-year-old initially dealt with a right hip flexor strain, stemming from a defensive play March 18 at Portland, but developed a separate left hip flexor soreness injury. He last played April 7 at Brooklyn.

“The (left hip) tightened up because I was compensating when I came back (April 4 at Houston),” Ball explained.

Other notes from shootaround:

Ball, after being asked about dealing mentally with not being able to play and watching the Pelicans struggle in some games: “It’s frustrating sitting out, period, regardless of how we’re playing. I always want to help my team out, and I can’t do much on the sideline. I’m happy to be back and hopefully we’ll get the ball rolling and get into these playoffs.” …

Ball is picking what some might consider a less than ideal matchup for a guard to return, because the Pelicans are facing the backcourt of Bradley Beal and Russell Westbrook. Asked specifically about Beal, Ball said, “He’s a great player. One guy can’t guard him. It’s a team effort. We have to just do our best job to try to slow him down.”


Offensive efficiency rank: 24 (108.6)

Defensive efficiency rank: 26 (113.1)

Net rating: 24 (-4.5)

Streak: Won 2

Go-to guy: The NBA’s leading scorer, Beal is averaging 31.0 points, the second straight season he’s poured in 30-plus per game. The University of Florida product and St. Louis native isn’t just putting up big numbers on high volume – he’s also posting career highs in shooting percentage (48.4) and free throw percentage (89.7, ranked 10th in the NBA). Beal deposited a career-best 60 points in a Jan. 6 game at Philadelphia, one of five times he’s tallied 40-plus this season, including a March 18 victory over Utah when he scored 43.

On the rise: Second-year forward Rui Hachimura has made major strides in recent weeks, bumping up his production in virtually every category since the All-Star break. Born in Japan, the 23-year-old Gonzaga product has been a factor behind Washington moving back into contention for the Eastern Conference’s final play-in spot, averaging 15.8 points and 6.4 rebounds over his last 18 games. During the same span, he’s shot 50 percent from the field and 36 percent on three-pointers (compared to 46 and 30 percent in those categories prior to the All-Star break).



Wednesday loss vs. New York

Eric Bledsoe, Naji Marshall, Brandon Ingram, Zion Williamson, Steven Adams

Notes: This group is 2-1, with wins over Philadelphia and Cleveland. … The team’s primary starting group with Ball and Bledsoe in the backcourt has a record of 15-19. It has not been intact since a March 18 loss at Portland. … The Pelicans are two games behind 10th-place San Antonio (26-27), which hosts Portland at 7:30 p.m. Ninth-place Golden State (28-28, 2.5 games ahead of NOLA) is idle Friday, then visits Boston on Saturday.


Wednesday win at Sacramento

Russell Westbrook, Bradley Beal, Deni Avdija, Rui Hachimura, Alex Len

Notes: This group is 5-1, the most effective starting combination for Washington this season. The Wizards also went 8-5 with Westbrook, Beal and Hachimura in the mix, but with Garrison Mathews at small forward and Mo Wagner (traded last month to Boston) at center. … The Wizards are part of a tight multi-team race for the East’s final play-in spot, trailing 10th-place Chicago (22-32) by one game. At 22-34, Toronto is technically 11th due to a slightly better overall winning percentage than Washington.



Beal rang up 47 points in the Jan. 27 matchup in the Smoothie King Center, but he needed 37 shots to do so, a positive for the Pelicans’ defense. New Orleans will try to force Beal and Westbrook – a DNP due to injury in the first meeting – into inefficient shooting nights.


Whether it’s by making more three-pointers themselves or defending the line better, the Pelicans need to reduce how drastically they’re being outscored at the arc. Over the last five games, New Orleans has made 41 fewer treys than its opponents, for a differential of 123 points (a negative margin of 24.6 points per game).


If their shooting slump continues, the Pelicans need to rely on their biggest offensive strength, the paint presence of Williamson and the team overall. However, help is on the way Friday on the perimeter, with Ball returning. Despite missing 14 games to injury this season, Ball has made the most threes (127) of any Pelicans player. Ingram is second with 120.

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