In-Season Tournament Preview: Pelicans Get Rare Opportunity To Play With High Stakes Versus Kings

SACRAMENTO – Since becoming the New Orleans Pelicans before the 2013-14 season, this franchise has had precious few opportunites to play games in “win-or-go home” situations.

There was the season finale in 2015 when the Pels beat the Spurs on the final day of the season to earn the eighth seed in the Western Conference playoffs.

And then, of course, the wins over the Spurs and Clippers in 2022 to advance to the playoffs once again.

Finally, last season’s loss to the Thunder at home in the play-in.

Looking up and down the Pelicans roster, there isn’t much winning history amongst the players either.

Zion Williamson may have said it best following the Pels’ win over the Denver Nuggets last month, “We haven’t won nothing. So I think that would be a starter step for us trying to go and win that.”

In the grand scheme of things, the In-Season Tournament is a made-for-television event meant to bring more eyes to screens before the unofficial start of the season on Christmas Day. For most teams, a tournament title would be a nice addition to a end-of-season highlight reel, but it isn’t a NBA championship, the ultimate and most elusive goal.

But for the Pelicans, once again hovering around .500, a win could mean something (as long as its kept in its proper perspective of course).

Williamson missed the playoff run and last season’s play-in game. The spotlight will be brightest on him no matter how far the Pelicans advance. His talent is elite, and as of late, his production has been as well. If the Pelicans are going to become the team that everyone wants them to be, Zion will have to be the one to lead them there.

After Saturday’s disappointing loss to the Chicago Bulls, New Orleans needs this win as a matter of priciple more than it does to advance in the tourney.

The Pelicans are 1-2 under Willie Green at Sacramento, and the Kings are both the betting favorite and a very good home team (6-2 this season). It won’t be easy to get to Las Vegas and the semifinals.

If the Pels are going to defy the odds, they’ll need to stick to their gameplan and have confidence in the cards in their hand. In a game with a lot of face cards, New Orleans will need its ace to topple the Kings.

Keys to Victory

Do it With Defense. In stringing together back-to-back wins over the Kings at the Smoothie King Center last month, the Pelicans manhandled the Sacramento offense, posting a 102.5 defensive rating, a 21.1 net rating, and a +/- of 20.5 over two games. The Kings shot 41 percent from the floor and 29 percent from distance, far below their regular season averages (46.5 and 35.5 respectively). Dyson Daniels and Herb Jones have been vital to that by dominating Sacramento’s guards. If that can continue, the Kings will have trouble creating open shots on the perimeter and finding passing outlets for Domantas Sabonis.

Control the Paint. Over their last ten games (6-4) the Pelicans have outscored their opponents by an average of 12.2 points in the paint, and have essentially been even in second chance points. Zion Williamson has started to round back into form, sitting second in the league in paint points during this stretch (19.3 ppg). The Kings typically do well inside, with both De’Aaron Fox and Sabonis ranking among the league leaders in interior scoring as well. Whichever team that can produce the most easy buckets, will likely end up moving on to Sin City.

Locked and Loaded. The Pelicans have nearly all of their shooters available to them, only awaiting the return of Matt Ryan. Trey Murphy III made a statement in his return against the San Antonio Spurs by scoring 18 points and making four triples in just 20 minutes. Any concerns about his knee were squashed when “Trigga” soared to the rim for a thunderous dunk late in the first quarter. CJ McCollum was unavailable for both games against the Kings, but he’s back. Jordan Hawkins has shown no fear and leads the team in made threes. The Pelicans currently have 11 players shooting at least 33 percent from long distance, nine at 37 percent or better, and six above 40 percent. That level of shooting opens things up for Williamson, Brandon Ingram, and Jonas Valanciunas on the inside.

Most Recent Starting Lineups

Sacramento KingsNew Orleans Pelicans
G – De’Aaron FoxG –Dyson Daniels
G – Kevin HuerterG – Herbert Jones
F – Keegan MurrayF – Brandon Ingram
F – Harrison BarnesF – Zion Williamson
C – Domantas SabonisC – Jonas Valanciunas


New Orleans Pelicans: Larry Nance Jr. (right rib fracture) and Matt Ryan (right elbow soreness) are Out

Sacramento Kings: Chris Duarte (knee) is Questionable, and Alex Len (ankle) is Out

Who: New Orleans Pelicans (11-10) vs Sacramento Kings (11-7)

Season Series:

  • Nov. 20: Pelicans win, 129-93
  • Nov. 22: Pelicans win, 117-112
  • Dec. 4: In-Season Tournament Quarterfinals
  • Jan. 7: @ Sacramento Kings
  • Apr. 11: @Sacramento Kings

Where: Golden 1 Center

When: Dec. 4, 9:00 PM CT

Where to watch: Bally Sports New Orleans, TNT

Where to listen: WRNO 99.5

For more content, visit HITP Sports on YouTube or HITP Sports online.


One thought on “In-Season Tournament Preview: Pelicans Get Rare Opportunity To Play With High Stakes Versus Kings

  1. The team played hard down the stretch and took the Kings best punch out the gate. I just hope this team can stay healthy and continue to fight as willie points out. Just for the hell of it though, If Griffin does pull the trigger on a small trade to move Kira, here’s one I think could work if they both agreed.. Any thoughts?

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