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Mar 25, 2024 2:34 pm

Playoff energy expected when Thunder, Pelicans meet

Zion Williamson

The New Orleans Pelicans will attempt to duplicate their road success at home when they host six consecutive games, beginning with a contest against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Tuesday.

The Pelicans just finished a 3-1 road trip and are tied with the Minnesota Timberwolves for most road victories (24) among Western Conference teams. New Orleans’ 20 home victories, though, are the lowest among any of the top six teams in the West.

Though this matches the Pelicans’ longest homestand of the season, it also represents one of their most challenging stretches.

After the game against the Thunder, who are in the thick of the race for the top seed in the West, four more of the better teams in the NBA — the Milwaukee Bucks, Boston Celtics, Orlando Magic and Phoenix Suns — are set to visit New Orleans. The homestand concludes with a game against the San Antonio Spurs on April 5.

New Orleans (44-27) has won five of its past six and nine of 11 since the start of the month.

The Pelicans are 2-0 since second-leading scorer Brandon Ingram was sidelined for around two weeks because of a bone contusion in his left knee that occurred during a loss at Orlando on Thursday.

In the first game without Ingram, leading scorer Zion Williamson had a career-low four points, but New Orleans still rolled past the Miami Heat on the road Friday.

Williamson said he “wasn’t tripping over that game” and bounced back less than 48 hours later to tie his season-high with 36 points, shooting 13 of 14 from the floor in a 114-101 victory at Detroit. Williamson added seven rebounds and six assists.

“I know my teammates and my coaches trust me,” Williamson said. “Coming into this game, I just wanted to get the win and that’s what we did.”

Head coach Willie Green usually gives Williamson a rest midway through the first quarter and brings him back late in the period. But he left Williamson in for the entire first quarter against the short-handed Pistons.

“He got it going about halfway through the first quarter, and we were just going to ride it,” Green said as Williamson was 3 of 3 from the floor with eight points in the opening quarter. He added nine points in the second quarter on 4-of-4 shooting.

The Thunder (49-21) were doing well on the road themselves, winning three straight away from home before a lopsided 118-93 loss at Milwaukee on Sunday night.

Oklahoma City missed its first 13 field-goal attempts in the third quarter and the Bucks had an 18-3 run while outscoring the Thunder 34-17 in the period.

“Our force on offense didn’t overcome their physicality, and then our physicality didn’t overcome their force,” Thunder coach Mark Daigneault said. “And that’s how a 25-point loss happens.”

The Thunder had won four in a row and seven of eight overall but had their lowest point total and lowest shooting percentage (37.1) of the season. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander scored just 12 points, his lowest scoring output since scoring seven in the third game of the season, and he sat out the fourth quarter with the game out of hand.

“They had him in a crowd for much of the night and made it very difficult for him to get his cracks,” Daigneault said. “I thought as a team, just our overall pace and sharpness on offense wasn’t where it needed to be.”

Gilgeous-Alexander credited Milwaukee for how it defended him and added, “I think I also just had a bad night.”

–Field Level Media

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