During some phases of this season, the first quarters have been a legitimate concern for New Orleans, including recently when poor starts derailed key Western Conference home games against Oklahoma City and the Lakers. Throughout the season, the Pelicans have been essentially average (up 8 overall, 15th out of 30 teams) in the first 12 minutes of games, but at times it just didn’t seem like it. The good news is that New Orleans has reversed the script in the last two games, quickly leading into double digits against Houston and San Antonio. Feeding Jonas Valanciunas at the low post helped (12 points overall, eight rebounds in 17 minutes in the first quarter), as did a defense that limited the undermanned Spurs to just 16 points on Thursday.
“Making sure we get JV going early in the games and make sure he’s established in the paint,” Pelicans forward Brandon Ingram said of a team goal after Thursday morning’s shootaround. “He causes double teams and then we kind of play 4-on-3 if he makes the best decision from the double team. It changes the game for us.”
Brandon Ingram on Must-Win Mentality | Pelicans and hornets shoot around 03/23/2023
Thursday’s opponent Charlotte ranks 26th in the NBA in first-quarter point differential (down 108), nearly matching the Hornets’ place in league standings. Charlotte is ahead only of Houston, San Antonio, Detroit and Indiana in the opening quarter (worst in the league minus 279).
“(We need a) must-win mentality from the start,” Ingram said. “We know we had bad first quarters where we weren’t focused. The (starting) group has to create something for the second group to continue.”
When asked how important injuries are in New Orleans’ current situation, Ingram replied, “It’s pretty obvious. I’m missing 30 games, Zion (Williamson) is missing games, CJ (McCollum) has to carry the load, guys have to step up. There’s a lot of factors in winning and losing this year, but I think we’ve done a great job with the guys stepping into bigger roles and seeing what it’s like to be in other people’s shoes. She did better. It made Trey Murphy better, Herb Jones better and better prepared for the moment. That was definitely a big factor for our season.” …
When asked if the Pelicans just need more luck to work out their injury problem, Ingram said: “The solution is to just keep fighting and keep playing. We have enough (to win) so we have to go further out and play hard and play together.
Charlotte Scouting Report
Offensive efficiency rank: 30 (108.5)
Defense Efficiency Rank: 20 (114.7)
Go-to-guy: Charlotte’s starting backcourt of Terry Rozier (21.4 ppg) and Kelly Oubre Jr. (20.5) is now featured prominently in an offensive tackle that saw injured 2022 All-Star point guard LaMelo Ball ( 23.3), greatly missed. Rozier and Oubre are both shooting from three-point range in the low 30s by percentage but can get hot and have put in a combined 15.2 attempts a night.
On the rise: Third-year center Nick Richards was recently placed in the starting XI through injury and has shot 72 percent from the field and 91 percent from free throws in his last 10 games. The Kentucky product averages 7.6 points and 7.1 rebounds over the same period.
Previous game start lineups
CHARLOTTE (23-50, 14TH EAST)
Terry Rozier, Kelly Oubre Jr., Gordon Hayward, PJ Washington, Nick Richards
Notes: Ball (ankle), Cody Martin (knee) and Mark Williams (thumb) are all out. Reserve guards James Bouknight and Theo Maledon are on assignment for the G League. … The Hornets look very likely to finish with the fourth-worst record in the NBA and are therefore entering the draft lottery in mid-May in “slot” #4. The three teams below in the table have only 16, 18 and 19 wins. Above them on the league chart is Orlando (30-43) the tightest squad.
NEW ORLEANS (35-37, 12TH WEST)
Victory against San Antonio on Tuesday
CJ McCollum, Herb Jones, Trey Murphy, Brandon Ingram, Jonas Valanciunas
Notes: Jose Alvarado (leg), EJ Liddell (knee) and Zion Williamson (hamstring) are all out. Dereon Seabron plays in the G League. … New Orleans will surely move to at least 11th if they come through Thursday and sit a half-game ahead of idle Utah (35-37, Jazz-owned tiebreaker at Pelicans from 3-0 season streak). … NOLA improving to 36-37 would create an impasse with idle Dallas and the Lakers. Oklahoma City is 36-36 and visits the Clippers in California late Thursday.
For a second straight game at the Smoothie King Center, New Orleans is facing a bottom two offense in the NBA. The Pelicans held the exceptionally undermanned Spurs to 35 percent shooting Tuesday, the lowest rate of any opponent this season.
Ingram, Valanciunas and McCollum have been successful during the team’s last two wins. On Sunday in Houston, the trio had 77 points combined, followed by 66 points against San Antonio on Tuesday.
MATCHUP TO WATCH
Bench production should be worth monitoring. New Orleans’ second unit ran a solid 13/25 from the field against San Antonio and dished out 11 of the Pelicans’ 31 assists. Partly due to injury, Charlotte currently relies on a reserve group filled with youngsters and inexperienced professionals.