Pelicans finish regular season in play-in spot

Zachary Brandwein, Staff Reporter

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Matthew Tate

After gaining momentum beating two of the NBA bottom feeders — the San Antonio Spurs and the Houston Rockets — the New Orleans Pelicans still had a tough road ahead. Even after those two wins, the Pelicans were still the 12th seed, meaning they would miss the playoffs and play-in tournament entirely.

It seems the players became aware of the urgent situation, as the Pels went 7-3 to close out the last 10 games of the season, with six of their seven wins coming against teams already in the playoffs

Many players have elevated their level of play, including star forward Brandon Ingram. Ingram, who has dealt with injury this season, made his most recent return on March 14 against the Los Angeles Lakers. He is averaging 24.7 points per game, 5.8 assists and 5.5 rebounds this season, shooting 48.4% from the field. Ingram also closed out the season strong — in the last game of the season against the Memphis Grizzlies, he set a new season high in points with 42, and rebounds with 12. 

Although Trey Murphy III’s scoring stats do not pop out, he played an amazing season. Murphy averaged 14.5 points, 3.6 rebounds and 1.4 assists per game, but he was doing so with historic efficiency, becoming only the third player in NBA history to average at least 40% from deep, 60% for two-pointers and 90% from the free-throw line. Murphy also set a new career high in points this season with 41. Playing very smart basketball, Murphy turned the ball over only 6.5% of the time, fourth fewest in the league this season. 

The Pelicans also received defensive contributions from many players. From the frontcourt, the Pelicans relied on guard Herb Jones, who has reached 100 steals for the second time in his two year career. Jones was also tied with four other players for fourth in the league in steals per game with 1.6. Jones also tied with three other players for ninth in the league in defensive plus minus, which is described as “providing a good indication of a player’s overall defensive value to his team.” For context, last year’s Defensive Player of the Year award winner, Marcus Smart, had a DBPM of 1.7.  

While Jones held down the backcourt, Jonas Valanciunas made himself present in the frontcourt. Jonas had the fifth most total rebounds in the league and had the highest rebound percentage, grabbing 23.1% of all possible rebound opportunities. 

The Pelicans will match up against the Oklahoma City Thunder in the play-in tournament. The winner will move on to face the Timberwolves in a game for the eighth seed. New Orleans met with the Thunder four times in the season, with the Pelicans winning three of the four. However, all of the Pelicans’ wins were by four points or less, and the Thunder won by 14 in the only game they took. If the Pelicans advance, they will face a Minnesota Timberwolves team that has had their number this season. They have matched up three times, with Minnesota winning two of the three. Similar to the Thunder, the one game the Pelicans won was by one point while the Wolves beat the Pels by at least 5 in both of their victories.

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