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The New Orleans Pelicans suffered another frustrating and disappointing loss on Friday, blowing a nine-point fourth-quarter lead before falling in overtime to the Wizards. Given the growing importance of each contest as the calendar ticks closer and closer to season’s end, losses like Friday’s hold more and more weight as the Pelicans fight for a playoff spot.

The increased importance of the games increases the scrutiny around the losses. Against Washington, Naji Marshall continued his breakout stretch of games, looking the third-best Pelican on the court for much of the night behind the team’s two All-Stars in Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram.

However, it was Eric Bledsoe and Lonzo Ball that closed regulation only for Ball to sit the bench in overtime for Marshall. After the game, head coach Stan Van Gundy explained the reasoning for his decisions in closing backcourts in regulation and the extra session.

“Well, I mean, I go back with (Ball) and he had five more minutes left to play,” Van Gundy said of the fourth quarter. “And Naji had been on the court a long time. He had been out there since the seven-minute mark of the third quarter, so he had been out there for 12 straight minutes. (I was) just trying to get fresh people in there. I didn’t think Lonzo hurt us at all. He played good defense.

“Maybe I should have had Naji back in there. I thought Bledsoe was defending Westbrook pretty well and doing a good job helping. But it’s certainly worth a question and possibly a criticism.”

As Van Gundy noted, Marshall came on for Ball at the 7:22 mark of the third quarter. He did not come off the court until the 4:38 mark of the fourth quarter when Ball returned, a span of 14:44 consecutive minutes played.

New Orleans has been limited in its guard options with injuries to Lonzo Ball, Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Josh Hart. While Ball did return on Friday from injury, he was under a minutes restriction. While Van Gundy didn’t specify exactly what the minutes restriction was, given his minutes played and his comments after the game, that number was 20 minutes.

After regulation, which included Ball getting a stop on Bradley Beal to force overtime, he sat at 19:46, effectively ending his night and bringing Marshall back onto the court for the extra session.

Defensively, Marshall and Ball combined to frustrate Beal much of the night. According to NBA’s Matchup data, Beal shot 2-for-5 against Marshall with six total points and 1-for-4 against Beal with two total points. Beal scored eight points against Bledsoe on the night, the most points scored against any one Pelicans defender.

Comparatively, Russell Westbrook shot 7-of-14 for 17 points against Bledsoe while Marshall and Ball held him to six points combined.

While Friday’s decision was largely taken out of his hands given Ball’s minutes restriction, Van Gundy will have a far more interesting decision when it comes to his guard rotation in the coming games.


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