Brandon Ingram drives by Kevin Knox as Jaxson Hayes sets a pick

Pelicans shootaround update presented by Entergy: Three-game win streaks on line for New Orleans, New York

by Jim Eichenhofer

It’s been 10 years since New Orleans and New York reached the NBA playoffs in the same spring, making Wednesday’s meeting in the Crescent City a rare consequential late-season matchup between franchises representing the Big Easy and Big Apple. The interconference clubs will actually play each other twice over the next five days, squaring off again Sunday at Madison Square Garden in front of a national TV audience.

Speaking of Pelicans-Knicks rarities, Zion Williamson has never played against New York in his brief NBA career. If it also seems like it’s been a while since the Knicks ventured into the Smoothie King Center, there is a good reason for that – their last visit was in November 2018.

Other notes after Wednesday’s shootaround:

Both teams are on three-game winning streaks. New Orleans has a chance to equal its longest winning streak of 2020-21, a four-gamer that took place in early February, while New York has not won more than three consecutive games this season. The Pelicans and Knicks both had a four-game winning streak during the pandemic-shortened 2019-20 regular season. …

Ten-day contract signee James Nunnally is a 6-7 wing with 28 official games of NBA experience under his belt. His longest stint in the league with one team was 2018-19 with Minnesota, where he played 13 games for the Timberwolves.

In his brief runs (267 total minutes), the 30-year-old has shot 32 percent from three-point range in the NBA, and he has plenty of international experience. Nunnally indicated that he was surprised to sign with New Orleans, saying it came “kind of out of nowhere.”

“I know it’s a young team and they need shooters to spread the court for Zion and (Brandon Ingram),” he said. “I feel like I can provide that. (The team is) going to create a lot of help and open up the court. You’ve just got to knock down shots and I have to be in the right spots, the right places to be available. I know I can do that.”


Offensive efficiency rank: 21 (108.8)

Defensive efficiency rank: 3 (107.4)

Net rating: 13 (+1.4)

Streak: Won 3

Go-to guy: A member of the Pelicans for one season during the franchise's painful 2018-19 campaign, forward/center Julius Randle made his first All-Star appearance in March and has emerged as one of the best individual stories of New York’s surprising rise to playoff contention. The rugged and skilled left-hander is averaging a career-high 23.0 points, diversifying his offensive game by adding elite three-point accuracy this season (39.8 percent, after never producing even a league-average rate as a pro). The Kentucky product has put New York in position to potentially reach the postseason for the first time since 2013.

On the rise: Taken two spots after Duke University teammate and close friend Zion Williamson in the 2019 draft, Knicks wing RJ Barrett was the subject of criticism in the Big Apple after an up-and-down rookie season, but the 20-year-old seems to be hitting his stride in Year 2. Barrett has been red-hot from the perimeter in April, shooting 18/32 from three-point range (56 percent) and averaging 17.0 points. Barrett also averaged 20.2 points in March.



Monday win vs. L.A. Lakers

Elfrid Payton, RJ Barrett, Reggie Bullock, Julius Randle, Nerlens Noel

Notes: This group is 9-8, having started each of the past nine games, a 4-5 stretch for the Knicks, but that span includes a current three-game winning streak (beat Memphis, Toronto, Lakers). … New York’s most common lineup this season is 11-11, featuring Louisiana native Mitchell Robinson at center instead of Noel. Robinson is sidelined by a broken foot. … The Knicks have used 10 different starting fives, a relatively low number during a season in which injuries and health and safety protocols have greatly affected many teams.


Monday win vs. Sacramento

Eric Bledsoe, Wes Iwundu, Brandon Ingram, Zion Williamson, Steven Adams

Notes: This group is 1-0. Iwundu made his first New Orleans start in the victory over the Kings. … New Orleans has used 13 different starting lineups, with many of the variations occurring over the past few weeks as a result of key injuries. Among those 13 combinations in 2020-21, only five have been used more than once. … The Pelicans are one game behind No. 10 Golden State (26-28) for the final play-in spot. Golden State (14-14 vs. the West) currently has a better conference record than New Orleans (14-17), which will serve as the temporary tiebreaker until the clubs face each other three times in May.



How does an NBA team vastly exceed expectations? Start at the defensive end. New York’s defense ranks third in efficiency, behind only the Lakers and Philadelphia in 2020-21. The Knicks also rank 30th in pace (the Pelicans are 15th), so keeping the hosts out of transition could be a major emphasis for New York to try to avoid a high-scoring affair. 


New York is just 23rd in the NBA in field goal percentage (45.0), but its attack often gets a needed boost by ranking ninth in offensive rebounding (27.8 percent of available boards). New Orleans is the NBA’s most effective team at giving itself second chances, with an offensive rebounding percentage of 30.8. The Pelicans have grabbed at least nine offensive boards in six straight games.


With Lonzo Ball sidelined, four of NOLA’s starting spots go to Bledsoe, Ingram, Williamson and Adams, but the remaining slot has rotated between Iwundu, James Johnson and Naji Marshall recently. All three have produced when given a starting nod. That likely will need to continue Wednesday, with Ball listed as doubtful to play (Johnson is questionable).

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