It was the same story on Saturday that was played in the first two games of the pelican season. In front of a contender, a short New Orleans team fought valiantly, but was unable to perform along the stretch, falling on the Houston Rockets on the road the second night of a back-to-back, 126-123.
The pelicans have lined up on tiptoes with one of the Western Conference elites and have made a late race. But missing three big points from JJ Redick, Kenrich Williams in the last few minutes and Josh Hart at the beeper all proved expensive in the loss.
Boy has Brandon Ingram flourished in his new role with his new team. With the chains removed and without LeBron James around, Ingram was dominant to start the season and on Saturday he had probably the best game of his career.
On a night when Jrue Holiday did not fit, Ingram picked up the scoring load, paying 32 points in 13-of-19. More encouraging, it was 4 out of 6 by three at night and is 10 out of 18 to start the year from distance.
The only unfortunate thing of the night, however, is that Ingram peaked in the fourth place he was burning before he had a much colder quarter. But he took a step forward while Alvin Gentry went on a smaller lineup to close the game and Ingram responded with 12 rebounds.
While the pelicans defended Harden well – the top scorer finished 8 out of 29 from the field and 2 of 18 out of three – they didn't defend the rest of the Rockets well. The non-Harden Rockets fired 35 by 65 from the field and 11 by 27 from beyond the arch.
New Orleans found some success along the stretch by becoming small to match the rockets with Ingram and Williams the two non-guards on the floor, but missed opportunities at both ends in the fourth team cost.
Honorable Mentions: Over-the-counter production, sloppy turnover
Even if only in the third game of the season, Lonzo Ball had its best performance of the year with 18 points, 10 assists, two rebounds, three stolen and, above all, zero turnover. While Ingram picked up the score load in the absence of Holiday, Ball picked up the direction load by distributing high season assists.
Defensively, he was also active to his high standards, finishing with three steals while diverting the steps throughout the evening. He sometimes defended Harden and defended himself, but struggled a little more with Russell Westbrook.
Overall, however, it was by far the best game of his season.