Pelicans Rumors

Zion Williamson Faces Questions About Conditioning, Effort

Zion Williamson scored just 13 points and grabbed a season-low two rebounds in 26 minutes of action during the Pelicans‘ blowout loss to the Lakers in Thursday’s in-season tournament semifinal. New Orleans was outscored by 33 points when he was on the court and ended up losing the game by 44.

After the game, TNT’s panel of analysts called out Williamson’s conditioning and effort level, with former star center Shaquille O’Neal suggesting he was “just like” Zion during his early years in the NBA in the 1990s.

“(He) does not run hard,” O’Neal said (Twitter video link). “It’s not a diss. It’s going to be a lesson from one great big man to another guy that can be a great big. Does not run hard. I had the same problem my first, second year. I thought I was running hard.”

Williamson’s poor conditioning was “painfully apparent” in Thursday’s loss, according to Christian Clark of The Times-Picayune, who suggests that the former No. 1 overall pick was carrying too much weight at the start of the season and hasn’t played himself into better shape. If anything, Clark says, Williamson’s conditioning has gotten worse since the season began.

As Clark details, Williamson’s poor work ethic has frustrated the Pelicans for years, with the club repeatedly encouraging the forward to improve his diet and his conditioning. Zion “doesn’t listen,” multiple team sources tell the Times-Picayune.

Williamson’s conditioning level this fall is particularly disappointing because Pelicans head of basketball operations David Griffin suggested multiple times ahead of the season that the former Duke star had made a concerted effort to improve in that area.

“The thing I think is important is CJ (McCollum) and Brandon (Ingram), throughout their careers, have always employed people to take care of their body, to take care of their nutrition,” Griffin told reporters at the team’s media day in October. “They are really invested in their profession. This was the first summer where we’ve seen Zion take his profession seriously like that and invest in it off the court on his own in a way that I think is meaningful.”

Griffin also said in September that Williamson had spent more time in the Pelicans’ gym this summer than he ever had before.

Williamson’s 22.2 points and 5.6 rebounds per game certainly aren’t bad numbers, but they would be career lows for him. He spoke on Thursday night about wanting to give the team more and needing to bring more energy to the floor.

“I gotta be more aggressive finding my shot. I gotta do more things to get my team going. I think I was too laid back tonight, and I can’t do that,” Williamson said, per Jake Fischer of Yahoo Sports. “… I have a problem where I literally just try to hunt the best shot possible every time. But I just gotta trust my game.”

Pacers, Lakers Advance To Tournament Final

The Pacers and Lakers advanced to the final of the NBA’s inaugural in-season tournament on Thursday by defeating the Bucks and Pelicans in their respective semifinal matchups.

The championship game between the two undefeated teams (both are 6-0 in the tournament) will be held at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas on Saturday at 7:30 pm CT. The final will be the lone game of the in-season tournament that does not count towards the regular season schedule.

Indiana’s win over Milwaukee was a back-and-forth affair that came down to the final minutes, with guard Tyrese Haliburton delivering another stellar performance (27 points, 15 assists, seven rebounds, zero turnovers), including clutch baskets to seal the victory. Center Myles Turner also had a strong outing, recording 26 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks.

However, the other semifinal wasn’t competitive, as Los Angeles demolished New Orleans behind a brilliant showing from LeBron James, who finished with 30 points (on 9-of-12 shooting), eight assists, five rebounds and zero turnovers in just 23 minutes. The Lakers wound up winning by 44 points.

Pelicans head coach Willie Green was understandably disappointed in his team’s effort, tweets Will Guillory of The Athletic.

Tonight was a total letdown… A lack of competitive spirit,” Green said. “Tonight, we took a step in the wrong direction.”

Players on standard contracts with the Pacers and Lakers have now secured bonuses worth at least $200K (two-way players will earn half that amount). The champs will earn $500K apiece.

The Bucks and Pelicans, meanwhile, earned bonuses of $100K per player for reaching the semifinals, but have been eliminated from contention for the first NBA Cup.

Poll: Which Teams Will Win In-Season Tournament Semifinals?

The semifinals of the NBA’s first-ever in-season tournament will be played on Thursday at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, with the winners advancing to Saturday’s final.

It’s a safe bet the early game will be a shootout. The high-octane Pacers have the NBA’s best offensive rating by a significant margin at 123.6. But they give up plenty of points too — their 120.2 defensive rating ranks 28th in the league, ahead of only Charlotte and Washington.

The Bucks are poised to take advantage of the holes in Indiana’s defense. Milwaukee’s 119.2 offensive rating is the NBA’s third-best mark and the group has been firing on all cylinders as of late, putting up 132 points on Saturday vs. Atlanta and a season-high 146 in Tuesday’s quarterfinal victory over New York.

Tyrese Haliburton has perhaps been the breakout star of the in-season tournament, but he and the Pacers will be underdogs against a Bucks squad led by superstars Giannis Antetokounmpo and Damian Lillard. currently lists Milwaukee as 5.5-point favorites.

Still, Indiana knocked off Boston in the quarterfinals and will perhaps benefit from what should be a neutral crowd in Las Vegas. The Pacers have a winning record away from home this season, while the Bucks are a modest 5-5 on the road.

The Lakers, on the other hand, may have a home-court edge in Thursday’s late game, given Vegas’ proximity to Los Angeles and the franchise’s sizable fan base. But they’re only favored by two points against a Pelicans team that’s as healthy now as it has been in quite some time.

While both Los Angeles and New Orleans have had to deal with injury issues during the first quarter of the 2023/24 season, they’re nearly at full strength heading into Thursday’s semifinal, with only Gabe Vincent expected to be out of action for L.A., while the Pelicans are just missing reserves Larry Nance Jr. and Matt Ryan.

Forwards LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Zion Williamson, and Brandon Ingram – along with guard CJ McCollum – are the headliners in this matchup, and a superstar-type performance from one or two of them could ultimately decide the game, but the Lakers’ and Pelicans’ supporting casts shouldn’t be overlooked. Role players like D’Angelo Russell, Austin Reaves, Rui Hachimura, Herbert Jones, Jonas Valanciunas, and Trey Murphy are capable of being game-changing X-factors.

What do you think? Which two teams will prevail on Thursday and meet in the first-ever in-season tournament final on Saturday?

Jose Alvarado Has Plans For In-Season Tournament Money

  • If the Pelicans win the in-season tournament, Jose Alvarado doesn’t plan to spend a penny of the $500K cash prize, according to Marc J. Spears of Andscape. Alvarado has already decided it will go into a savings account for his three young daughters.

In-Season Tournament Notes: Banner, Lakers’ Timeout, Tatum, Ratings

Winning the first in-season tournament will be a historic accomplishment, but is it worth hanging a banner in the rafters? Joe Vardon of The Athletic suggests the answer may depend on which team leaves Las Vegas with the trophy. The Lakers, who already have 17 banners, and the Bucks, who were crowned champions three years ago, may be less likely to hang up a banner than the Pacers or Pelicans, who’ve never won an NBA title.

“I think you’ll see a banner of some sort,” Indiana coach Rick Carlisle said. “This is not an insignificant thing at all. … This being the first one is extra special.”

“I think at this point in my career, because I haven’t done anything yet, I’ll take a banner, but certainly Bron (LeBron James) would not answer the same way,” Pacers guard Tyrese Haliburton added.

Players and fans have embraced the tournament, but the event is too new to determine how much significance it will carry each year. Cash prizes are helping to fuel the competition — with $500K per player for the winners, $200K for the runners-up and $100K for the other two semifinalists — but Haliburton believes bragging rights are a bigger incentive, with everyone wanting to be part of the first tournament winner in league history.

The Pelicans also recognize how much a tournament title would mean, with coach Willie Green saying he would “absolutely” want a banner if New Orleans wins. Brandon Ingram said the money and a chance at history have inspired the team to work extra hard.

“I think my motivating factor is just seeing my teammates really get ready for these games like this – it’s a different approach,” he said. “You see some of my teammates who don’t get extra shots (after practices) like, locked in an exercise center at the shootaround. This is just like a different deal. I know how bad they want it.”

There’s more on the tournament:

  • The NBA’s last two minute report claims the controversial timeout the Lakers received Tuesday in their win over the Suns was justified, tweets Gerald Bourguet of PHNX Sports. The report cites three mistakes, which were all fouls that should have been called against Phoenix.
  • Celtics star Jayson Tatum is the latest player to criticize the importance given to point differential in breaking ties during group play. Appearing on the Point Forward podcast with Andre Iguodala and Evan Turner, Tatum said he had to play expanded minutes in Boston’s final group game, which was a blowout against Chicago (hat tip to SB Nation). “We was in the game and I was like,” Tatum said, “I remember I tapped, I think it was Torrey Craig. I was like, ‘Yo bro, I don’t really want to be out here right now.’ Cause we were up 30 going into the fourth. If it was a Wednesday I would have been sitting on the bench and the younger guys would have gotten in. It just didn’t feel right.”
  • The quarterfinal matchup between the Lakers and Suns drew 1.97 million viewers, up 89% from games at a similar time last season, according to a tweet from the league.

Tournament’s Final Four Set, Regular Season Schedule Finalized

The Bucks and the Lakers earned quarterfinal victories on Tuesday night, joining the Pacers and Pelicans as the final four teams that will head to Las Vegas to compete for the championship in the NBA’s first-ever in-season tournament.

Milwaukee pulled away from New York in the second half in Tuesday’s early game, with superstars Giannis Antetokounmpo and Damian Lillard combining for 63 points in the 146-122 victory.

In the late game, the Lakers benefited from a generous timeout call in the closing seconds (Twitter video link) and eked out Phoenix in a 106-103 nail-biter, led by LeBron James‘ 31 points, 11 assists, eight rebounds, and five steals.

The schedule for Thursday’s semifinals at T-Mobile Arena is as follows:

  • Milwaukee Bucks vs. Indiana Pacers (4:00 pm Central time)
  • Los Angeles Lakers vs. New Orleans Pelicans (8:00 pm CT)

The winners of those semifinal matchups will square off in the in-season tournament final at T-Mobile Arena on Saturday at 7:30 pm CT.

Players on standard contracts with the Bucks, Pacers, Lakers, and Pelicans have now secured bonuses worth at least $100K (two-way players will earn half that amount). A semifinal victory would increase those bonuses to at least $200K, while the champs will earn $500K apiece.

The Celtics, Knicks, Kings, and Suns, meanwhile, will come away with bonuses worth $50K per player for making the knockout round, but won’t get the opportunity to head to Vegas for the tournament’s final stage.

Instead, the Knicks will travel to Boston on Friday, while the Kings will visit Phoenix on the same night. Those newly added regular season contests represent the 82nd game on each team’s schedule. Thursday’s semifinals will also count toward the NBA’s regular season standings, but Saturday’s final won’t, since that will be the 83rd game on those teams’ schedules.

Jones Puts On Display At Both Ends Of Floor

  • The Pelicans advanced to the in-season tournament semifinals on Monday by defeating Sacramento. ESPN’s Andrew Lopez provides details about a team meeting last month held following a five-game losing streak. Larry Nance Jr. called the meeting, which was described as productive. The players were receptive to constructive criticism. “It just felt a little that we could be better. And I thought we did a great job of addressing exactly what we needed to address and walking into the meeting with a clear direction and a path the meeting was supposed to take. And it took that,” Nance said.
  • Herbert Jones displayed his defensive chops against the Kings’ De’Aaron Fox on Monday, hounding the star guard into a 10-for-25 shooting performance and six turnovers. Jones, who is signed through the 2026/27 season after becoming a restricted free agent earlier this year, also supplied 23 points, Christian Clark of the New Orleans Times-Picayune notes. “Herb was everywhere,” Pelicans coach Willie Green said. “He was flying around. He was blocking shots. He was getting steals, rebounding the ball. We needed that effort across the ball. This was a big-time win.”

Tournament Notes: Haliburton, Pacers, Pelicans, Awards

After missing Saturday’s win over Miami due to an upper respiratory infection, Pacers guard Tyrese Haliburton got off to a slow start in Monday’s in-season tournament quarterfinal and had to use an inhaler at halftime, writes Tim Bontemps of ESPN. He bounced back in a big way in the second half, registering his first career triple-double (26 points, 13 assists, 10 rebounds) and leading Indiana to a comeback victory over the favored Celtics.

It was the first Pacers game this season that was nationally televised and it represented an opportunity for one of the NBA’s rising talents to show off his game for a wider audience, according to David Aldridge of The Athletic, who suggests that Haliburton’s star turn has been the best thing about the in-season tournament so far.

“You don’t play on national TV if you don’t win games,” Haliburton said. “The more we come out here and prove that, on a night-to-night basis, that we can win games, it’s gonna change. And that’s all that we’re about right now; changing how this organization is viewed and how we are as players viewed, and just coming out here and competing every night.”

The fourth-year guard has been the driving force of a Pacers offense that has a 123.6 rating, which is the top mark in the league by nearly four full points. He earned “MVP” chants from the home crowd in Indiana.

“I haven’t heard MVP chants, maybe when (Victor) Oladipo was here, but Ty’s really come in and taken over and it’s fun stuff,” Myles Turner said after the victory, per Bontemps.

Here’s more on the NBA’s in-season tournament:

  • Although Larry Nance Jr. is currently on the shelf, the Pelicans are otherwise as healthy as they’ve been since early in the 2022/23 season — they’re eager to make a run at show what this roster is capable of, according to Kendra Andrews of ESPN. That effort began with a quarterfinal win over Sacramento on Monday. Star forward Zion Williamson only scored 10 points in the victory, but New Orleans got at least 16 points apiece from five players, including the other four starters. “With their complete roster, they are the team that I could see challenging the Denver Nuggets for the top team in the West,” a league source told ESPN.
  • In an announcement on Monday (Twitter link), the league unveiled its new awards related to the in-season tournament, including the NBA Cup for the team that wins the event and the trophies for the tournament’s MVP and all-tournament team.
  • Players on two-way contracts will receive half the prize money that players on standard deals will receive in the in-season tournament, tweets ESPN’s Bobby Marks. That means a two-way player on the championship team would receive $250K rather than $500K, but that’s still a significant chunk of money for players who are earning just $559,782 this season. “It’s another good reason to be motivated,” Suns two-way player Saben Lee said, per Tim Reynolds of The Associated Press. “But regardless, guys love to play basketball and compete at a high level.”
  • A few of the teams still alive in the tournament have open roster spots, so it’s worth noting that a player won’t be eligible to participate in the tournament final unless he’s added to the roster before the semifinals, according to Marks (Twitter link).

And-Ones: In-Season Tournament, Point Differential, Cole

While most of the league has gotten back to business as usual, the eight teams that advanced in the NBA’s first-ever in-season tournament are focused on the knockout round and a trip to Las Vegas for the semifinals and title game, writes Tim Reynolds of The Associated Press. Single-elimination games will start Monday with the Pacers hosting the Celtics and the Pelicans meeting the Kings, and will continue Tuesday with Knicks-Bucks and Lakers-Suns matchups.

“I just want to make every appeal I can to our fans that we need the loudest building possible,” Indiana coach Rick Carlisle said. “To show you that no good deed goes unpunished, we draw the team with the best record in basketball. But we do get to play them at home. So that’s something important. We need our building to be as loud and raucous as it possibly can and we need to throw a game out there that’s exceptional.”

The new tournament falls at a perfect time on the NBA calendar, notes Sam Amick of The Athletic. It brings added stakes to numerous early-season games and ends six days before December 15, which marks the unofficial start of trading season as most free agents who signed during the summer become eligible to be dealt. Ten days later marks the Christmas Day showcase, which Amick points out is when much of the general public typically starts paying attention to the league.

There’s more from around the basketball world:

  • The NBA may have to address the point-differential issue before next year’s tourney, Amick adds in the same piece. Having it as the primary tie-breaker led to unusual strategy in several late-game situations on Tuesday, and Knicks guard Josh Hart said it “messes with the integrity of the game a little bit.” Warriors coach Steve Kerr, whose team needed a 13-point win at Sacramento to reach the final eight, talked with reporters before the game about a scenario where it might be advantageous to let the Kings force overtime and try to dominate the extra session. He also made it clear that he wouldn’t pursue that strategy. “I’ll let (commissioner) Adam Silver answer,” Kerr said. “He gets to decide what we should do. I don’t know. It’s a very interesting question.”
  • The Athletic’s NBA staff examines the most pressing concerns for all 30 teams, from the top of the league, where the Celtics have to be worried about frontcourt depth in light of Kristaps Porzingis‘ injury history, to the bottom, where the Pistons might be forced into upending their roster sooner than expected.
  • Veteran guard Norris Cole has joined the G League Ignite, tweets Marc J. Spears of Andscape. Cole, 35, won two titles with the Heat but has been out of the NBA since 2017.

Southwest Notes: Murphy, Williamson, Brooks, Tillman

Pelicans wing Trey Murphy tore the meniscus in his left knee in September, missing the first 19 games of New Orleans’ season. The injury was a major setback for a player who had increased his scoring average from 5.4 points per game in 2021/22 to 14.5 last season, establishing himself as one of the Pelicans’ key rotation pieces.

Murphy made his 2023 season debut on Friday, immediately picking back up where he left off. He scored 18 points in his return and helped the Pels to a 15-point victory over the Spurs.

He’s been a big part of our success the last two seasons,” coach Willie Green said, per Christian Clark of “We all were rallying for him to get on the floor and get back. It was like he didn’t miss a beat. Now it’s about building that chemistry with everyone on the team.

The Pelicans, who have dealt with a litany of injuries over the past few seasons, are getting healthier and healthier. The only rotation player currently dealing with a long-term injury is Larry Nance Jr., who is out four-to-six weeks, a far cry from what the injury report has looked like in season’s past.

We have more from the Southwest Division:

  • Pelicans star forward Zion Williamson is expected to play in the team’s Saturday matchup against the Bulls, according to Green (Twitter link via ESPN’s Andrew Lopez). Lopez notes that this would be the first back-to-back Williamson has played this season. The two-time All-Star is averaging 23.3 points, 5.8 rebounds and 5.0 assists this season.
  • The Rockets entered Friday tied for the fourth-best defense in the league, in large part to wing Dillon Brooks‘ contributions on the floor, according to The Athletic’s Kelly Iko. Iko breaks down Brooks’ unique approach to defense, including the fact that he guards players in an unconventional way — by clapping in their face. “I feel like everyone in the league knows I slap people’s hands on jump shots after the ball’s released,” Brooks told The Athletic.So it puts a thought in their mind that when I close out, you’re not getting a free shot. When they work out, they’re so used to following through. But when I close out, I like to mix in different things like that.
  • Grizzlies center Xavier Tillman played in Memphis’ Friday matchup with the Mavericks (Twitter link via team), playing 21 minutes and helping the Grizzlies to a 14-point win. Tillman had appeared in just one game since Nov. 3, so his return to the lineup is welcome for a Memphis team that won back-to-back games for the first time this season.