New Orleans had a potential 2-for-1 possession opportunity at the end of Wednesday’s third quarter at Sacramento, but time was of the essence. Kira Lewis Jr., one of the NBA’s fastest players, had a solution.
The second-year point guard sped past two Sacramento defenders near the sideline, then rose for a resounding right-hand dunk that brought his Pelicans teammates watching from the sideline out of their seats, while stopping the clock at 30.3 seconds, perfectly timed in that situation.
Lewis’ slam appeared on NBA nightly highlight reels, but his overall performance was more noteworthy to the Pelicans. In his best individual game of 2021-22, the Alabama product scored 14 points on 6/9 shooting (2/3 on threes) in just 17 minutes of action. The 20-year-old has produced double-digit points in two of the last three games.
“That’s my game – getting downhill, making plays for myself and my teammates,” Lewis said of using his elite quickness to penetrate defenses. “I feel like that’s when I’m at my best. In the offseason (a focus was) working on different finishes, different touch off the glass, floaters. Just being in attack mode and (having a) next-play mentality. Whatever happens, good or bad, move on and keep playing.”
“It’s what he does well,” Pelicans first-year head coach Willie Green said of Lewis’ drives. “He can attack downhill, he can get into the paint, he can finish. We need that type of effort from Kira and for him to be consistent.”
Lewis’ recent play has been a bright spot during a stretch in which New Orleans has been competitive in virtually every game, but unable to sustain its level of play or hold leads over the full 48 minutes.
Veteran guard/forward Garrett Temple on what’s behind Lewis’ recent improvement: “(Him) just understanding what we need from him, how to impact the game in his way and the pace he can bring to the team. We don’t have anybody who can do what he can do. His ability to get downhill, play with speed, and be aggressive on the offensive end has really shown.” …
Asked how the Pelicans can maintain the right mentality amid their current struggles, guard Nickeil Alexander-Walker responded, “We can’t be frontrunners. We can’t be all hyped when (Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram) come back, and be down when they’re not here and act like we’re helpless. It’s about staying even-keeled, not getting too high, not getting too low.”
GOLDEN STATE SCOUTING REPORT
Offensive efficiency rank: 16 (106.9)
Defensive efficiency rank: 1 (97.1)
Net rating: 3 (+9.7)
Pace: 3 (102.76)
Streak: Won 2
Go-to guy: At 26.7 points per game, Stephen Curry’s scoring average is 10 points higher than any Warriors teammate (Jordan Poole is second at 16.4). To the surprise of absolutely no one, the two-time MVP and future Hall of Fame lock also leads the NBA in three-point makes (34), though his percentage from beyond the arc is actually a career low (37.4), not counting his partial 2019-20 season that consisted of only five games. Incidentally, Pelicans guard Devonte’ Graham ranks fifth in the league in three-point baskets (29), part of a top five that also includes West gunners C.J. McCollum, Buddy Hield and Carmelo Anthony. In four home games in the Chase Center this season, Curry is averaging 29.0 points and shooting 41 percent from three-point range.
On the rise: Curry’s brother-in-law, shooting guard Damion Lee, is off to an outstanding start in his fifth NBA season. The 29-year-old is 15/30 from three-point territory, while shooting 48 percent from the field. Golden State’s fourth-leading scorer (14.3 ppg) this season, Lee has tallied at least 11 points in all six games he’s played this season, topped by a 20-point outing at Oklahoma City on Oct. 26. Over his last three appearances, the Louisville product has knocked down 11 treys.
PREVIOUS GAME STARTING LINEUPS
NEW ORLEANS (1-8)
Wednesday loss at Sacramento
Devonte’ Graham, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Garrett Temple, Josh Hart, Jonas Valanciunas
Notes: This group is 0-1, marking the fourth different New Orleans starting lineup this season. … Ingram (six starts) and Herbert Jones (seven starts) were both listed as questionable on Thursday’s injury report. … Seven different Pelicans players have started at least once, with Temple given his first starting nod on Wednesday and Hart making his fourth start.
GOLDEN STATE (6-1)
Wednesday win vs. Charlotte
Stephen Curry, Jordan Poole, Andrew Wiggins, Draymond Green, Kevon Looney
Notes: Steve Kerr has started the same lineup in every game this season. … Poole is a newcomer to regular starting duty, having only been a Golden State first-stringer 21 times over his 108 appearances, spanning the previous two seasons. However, in one of those 21 starts, Poole rang up 38 points on 12/22 shooting vs. New Orleans in a May matchup last season.
FANDUEL KEYS TO THE GAME
Combined score from the first three quarters of the Pelicans’ road trip so far: New Orleans 169, opponents 168. Combined fourth-quarter score: Opponents 56, New Orleans 30. The final 12 minutes of games have prevented the Pelicans from cracking the win column so far on the West Coast.
It’s not easy to generate points when your top two scorers are sidelined by injury, but New Orleans has a better chance if it reduces turnovers, gets into its offense consistently and takes quality shots. Golden State presents a major challenge, as the NBA’s No. 1-ranked defense (the Pelicans are 24th in offense).
MATCHUP TO WATCH
At shooting guard, Alexander-Walker and Poole are X-factors for their teams, capable of big offensive nights. Alexander-Walker has been in a shooting slump, but got rolling Wednesday (16 points) by aggressively taking the ball to the basket. Poole erupted for 31 points Wednesday vs. Charlotte, after also being mired in a a recent accuracy dip.