New Orleans Pelicans guard Jose Alvarado shoots baskets as his daughter Naz, 2, plays on the court, after an NBA basketball game against the Golden State Warriors in New Orleans, Sunday, April 10, 2022. The Warriors won 128-107. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

San Antonio vs New Orleans play-in preview

The New Orleans Pelicans will host the San Antonio Spurs at Smoothie King Center on Wednesday. The winner will play the Los Angeles Clippers for the No.8 seed in the Western Conference. Tip off is at 9:30 p.m.

The teams are both 6-4 in their last 10 games. San Antonio has been without All-Star guard Dejounte Murray for five of those games, while New Orleans has missed star forward Brandon Ingram for the same amount of time. Ingram is listed as probable, but he said he expects to play.

The Spurs won three out of four games against the Zion Williamson-less Pelicans this season. The Pelicans’ only win, a blowout victory, came without Ingram.

Key Players

Brandon Ingram

The 2020 All-Star averaged 22.7 points, 5.8 rebounds and 5.2 assists this season for New Orleans. The forward also scored 30 points or more 10 times in 2021-22.

The forward averaged 24.2 points in two games against the Spurs this year, but he has struggled from deep. Ingram shot 28.6% from three-point range during his last 10 games. Against San Antonio this season, his three-point percentage dropped to 11.1%.

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CJ McCollum

New Orleans acquired the longtime Portland Trail Blazers guard at the trade deadline this season. As a Pelican, McCollum has averaged 24.3 points, 5.8 assists and 4.5 rebounds. In two losses against San Antonio, the former NBA Most Improved Player scored 36 and 32 points, respectively.

Since adding McCollum, the Pelicans are 14-14.

Dejounte Murray

The longest tenured Spur has been the team’s best player this season. A first time all-star, Murray led the league in steals per game with 2.0. His 13 triple-doubles were enough for second in the league behind reigning MVP Nikola Jokic, and the guard is now the Spurs’ all-time leader in triple-doubles.

Murray averaged 21 points, 9.2 assists and 8.3 rebounds this season. In the team’s lone loss to New Orleans, Murray scored 17 points and grabbed nine rebounds. The Pelicans won that game 124-91.

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Keldon Johnson

The Olympic gold medalist struggled to start the season. After the All-Star break, the forward’s numbers climbed. Since then, he has averaged 20.8 points, 6.5 rebounds and 2.9 assists.

Johnson‘s three-point shooting has also improved dramatically. He has made five or more threes in 6 games since the All-Star break and is shooting 39.8% from deep this year, up from 33.1% last season.

X-Factors

Jonas Valanciunas

The Pelicans’ starting center has been a double-double machine this season. His 50 double-doubles were good enough for third in the league. Valanciunas‘s 11.4 rebounds per game gave him the seventh best average. He also grabbed 15 boards or more 16 times in 2021-22.

Valanciunas was a nightmare for San Antonio during last season’s play-in game. Then a Memphis Grizzly, the center scored 23 points to go with 23 rebounds. Memphis won that game 100-96.

Lonnie Walker

Wednesday night’s game could be Walker‘s last in a Spurs uniform. The 23-year-old is in the final season of his rookie contract. Walker has been streaky but saw improvement after the All-Star break. Since then he has scored 20 points or more in eight games and is averaging 15.3 points.

The Spurs will likely need a strong performance from the fourth-year guard to advance.

The Pelicans will look to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2018. The Anthony Davis-led lineup lost to the Golden State Warriors in the conference semifinals.

The Spurs will attempt to keep from extending the longest playoff drought in the franchise’s history. The team has missed the playoffs each of the last two seasons after 22 consecutive appearances.

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