WASHINGTON, DC — It has been quite a while since the New Orleans Pelicans won a game against the Washington Wizards in the nation’s capital.
The last time the franchise clinched a win on January 1, 2011 at Capital One Arena, it wasn’t even the Pelicans, it was the New Orleans Hornets. Current Pelicans coach Willie Green, then a player for the Hornets, played 20 minutes that night in a 92-81 win.
On Monday night, his Pelicans impressively ended a nine-game losing streak on the Washington road and set a new season-high in points with the 132-112 win.
While the end result went in the Pelicans’ direction, things didn’t start out that way. The Wizards started the game with a 10-0 run. Green credited forward Naji Marshall for getting things started after the Pelicans dug themselves an early hole.
Marshall made a poor pass that turned into a Washington bucket and gave the Wizards an early seven-point lead when Green called for a timeout. After the time-out, the Wizards got another 3-pointer before the Pelicans turned the tide.
“He just started making the right play over and over again,” Green said. “I thought Naji was great. His reaction and the rest of the team followed suit with his emotional energy.”
Marshall grew up in the DMV area and estimated he had between 50 and 60 people at the game on Monday nights.
When asked what switch was flipped when the team dropped out early, Marshall referred to his family and the, well, encouragement Green had given him.
“There’s one thing I can’t do in front of my people, and that’s trash,” Marshall said. “My people don’t mess around. They didn’t want me to hear the end. So when he was already yelling at me and I felt like I could be pulled out, I said let me in quick.”
Marshall was pushed into the starting lineup, with the Pelicans missing both Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram. He finished his homecoming performance with 18 points.
And while Marshall has risen, the Pelicans have relied on their other stars, CJ McCollum and Jonas Valanciunas.
McCollum had a game-high 34 points and Valanciunas had 27 points and 12 rebounds. It was McCollum’s fourth straight 25-point game and Valanciuna’s fifth straight double-double, both of which achieved their respective season-highs in those categories.
Everyone had at least 20 points in the first half.
While McCollum carried New Orleans on 16 points in the first quarter, the Pelicans turned to Valanciunas in the second quarter, who was able to attack a Wizards frontcourt that was struggling in dire straits. He had 14 points in the quarter.
“We were just trying to establish his presence,” McCollum said. “He’s efficient in the post. He’ll get us to the bonus quicker. He gets us points on the free-throw line even if it’s not a shot attempt. And that makes him better shielded. It makes him defend better and do those things that we have to be aware of as the season progresses. Even if the boys come back, we have to make sure he eats.
Williamson missed his fourth straight game while dealing with a right hamstring strain and Ingram has not played since Nov. 25 due to a bruised toe. The Pelicans improved to 8-4 this season when playing without Williamson and are now 6-3 in games that both Williamson and Ingram missed.
With Williamson, Valanciunas has ramped up his game, averaging 20.0 points and 12.3 rebounds in the last four competitions.
“It’s always fun to play well and win basketball,” said Valanciunas. “There’s no doubt about that. We’re missing our two main guys, so everyone has to step up and everyone has to do a few extra things to be able to win the game. I think we all did that and that’s what made us successful.”
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