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New Orleans Pelicans forward Brandon Ingram took inspiration from Las Vegas — Andscape

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A “bothered” Brandon Ingram wanted to ensure that what happened in Vegas stayed in Vegas after the New Orleans Pelicans’ embarrassing ousting from the NBA in-season tournament.

The Pelicans were one win away for playing for a prize of $500,000 per player in the NBA’s inaugural in-season tournament. That money bag was dropped when New Orleans was hammered 133-89 by LeBron James, Anthony Davis and the eventual tournament champion Los Angeles Lakers on Dec. 7, 2023, in Las Vegas.

Since leaving Las Vegas, however, Ingram and the Pels have been playing inspired and winning basketball.

“What bothered me the most was just seeing the difference in how much guys locked in for the Lakers,” Ingram told Andscape. “You could tell the difference between regular season and them actually wanting to go after something. More than bothering me, it motivated me to be ready for whatever was coming.

“From that moment on, we just tried to work on our game execution, work on bigger stuff, see the game a little bit differently. That’s how you got to attack different teams. I took more stuff away from it. It bothered me when we walked out of the gym. I was just thinking, ‘Man, we lost by 40 points.’ That was on my mind. I couldn’t do nothing but think about it and rewatch it to see what happened. But we knew we had to respond.”

Ingram and the Pelicans have certainly responded since Las Vegas.

The Pelicans had a 12-11 record after that blowout loss to the Lakers. Pelicans head coach Willie Green said his team has been on a mission since then to prove “the standard we want to set for ourselves.” Post-Vegas, New Orleans has played much better with a 17-10 overall record. In a potential statement game, Ingram and the Pelicans (29-21) visit the LA Clippers (34-15) Wednesday night on ESPN (10 p.m. ET).

“Vegas wasn’t it,” Green said. “We were honest about that. That was a poor performance on our part. We played with a lack of energy. I don’t want to continue to go back and stay positive, but we had some honest discussions about it and we want to hold ourselves to a certain standard. And the last 10, 15 games since Vegas, it’s been more of what we’re about and that’s the goal, continue to move forward.”

A big reason for the difference from the Pelicans post-Vegas is Ingram.

New Orleans Pelicans forward Brandon Ingram reacts after making a 3-point basket in the second half against the Toronto Raptors on Feb. 5 in New Orleans.

Gerald Herbert/AP Photo

Ingram scored a season-high 41 points and made 8 3-pointers, including 5 straight in the third quarter during a 138-100 blowout home win over the Toronto Raptors on Monday. He added a game-high nine assists and six rebounds in just 29:58 minutes.

According to the Pelicans, Ingram became the first player in NBA history to tally 40 points, 9 assists and zero turnovers in 30 minutes or less. Since Las Vegas, the 2020 NBA All-Star is averaging 21 points on 49.9% shooting from the field, 44.3% shooting from 3-point range, 5.9 assists and 4.8 rebounds.

“You got to give 14 the ball and let him go to work,” Pelicans forward Zion Williamson said. “He is going to make the right play whether he is shooting like that or if it is another game where he is on pace to do what he usually does. He is always going to make the right play.”

Said Pelicans guard CJ McCollum: “His ability to hit tough shots, get others involved, finish around the basket, hit 3s — it was all on display.”

Green said several weeks ago that Ingram is having “a ball” in his eighth NBA season, and he believes this could be the forward’s best with the franchise. Green also complimented the Kinston, North Carolina, native for his unselfishness offensively, his defense, setting the tone on offense with “force and efficiency” and being a leader on and off the court.

Ingram, who says he loves the chill New Orleans vibe, has the calmness of the Mississippi River on a tranquil day. He doesn’t waste words, so when he calmly speaks his teammates listen. Just 26 years old, he has also found his own unique way to lead without yelling.

“I’m more by example,” Ingram said. “I speak up when I need to, whatever I see, what I can help people with. It’s more about just doing it by example and putting guys in spots. I’m a person that’s got good feel for everything that’s going on, whether it’s on the floor, off the floor. I can see people’s faces. I can see how they are talking. I can be there for them.”

Neither Ingram nor Williamson, who averages a team-best 22.3 points, made the 2024 NBA All-Star team despite a winning record. While individual scoring usually attracts leaguewide attention, the Pelicans actually spread the wealth offensively with seven players who average at least 10 points. Ingram spoke proudly about playing for a well-rounded Pelicans squad with young star Williamson, the veteran McCollum, inside scoring threat Jonas Valančiūnas, defensive specialist Herb Jones and key reserves Trey Murphy III, Dyson Daniels and Jose Alvarado.

Ingram says the Pelicans have to experience growing pains to become an NBA power. In that blowout loss to the Lakers, he said, the Pelicans saw the blueprint for what is needed to become a title-contending team that New Orleans fans have been eager to see.

“There is sacrifice in figuring out how to win,” Ingram said. “There is sacrifice in knowing every night is not going to be your night. Some nights call for defense. Some nights call for different things. That’s all I want to do is win. I know how that makes people feel. When you win, everybody gets paid. And I know New Orleans hasn’t seen winning. We don’t have a banner in a facility. We don’t have a banner in our arena. We’re just trying to draw closer and closer together …

“We definitely have the talent, but we got to continue to get in situations where we have to think and learn. We have to continue to get better. In the Lakers game, they have guys who have been there and leaders with LeBron and A.D. They made their teammates go. That is what we want to try to do.”

Marc J. Spears is the senior NBA writer for Andscape. He used to be able to dunk on you, but he hasn’t been able to in years and his knees still hurt.



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