New Orleans Pelicans Willie Green smiles after the 122-114 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers during the press conference Saturday, Apr. 1, 2023 in New Orleans, La. (Aimee Cronan/The Gazebo Gazette via AP)

by Hunter Dawkins, Publisher/Owner – thegazebogazette@gmail.com or hdawkins@supertalk.fm

The New Orleans Pelicans are heading to the NBA’s inaugural in-season tournament semifinals after beating the Sacramento Kings 127-117 on Monday night.

Behind a stellar performance from Brandon Ingram, who finished with 30 points and eight rebounds, five other Pelicans had double-digit scoring nights to help the team rally from a 15-point deficit in the first quarter.

“That was a gutsy win against a very good Sacramento Kings team. Mike Brown has done a great job here and our guys are a resilient group who puts their heart on the floor night in and night out,” New Orleans head coach Willie Green said. “It’s a growth moment for us to have the opportunity to be where we’re at in the first NBA in-season tournament. You put a game in front of us that’s meaningful, I don’t care who it is or what it is, we want to win.”

Sacramento went on a 32-17 run to open the game, making 12 of their first 14 shots. The Pelicans refused to be phased and responded with a 28-5 run of their own before halftime. New Orleans extended its lead to 15 points in the third before leading by 10 or more for the rest of the night.

Pelicans center Jonas Valanciunas had another double-double, scoring 18 points and grabbing 11 rebounds while fellow big man Zion Williamson added 10 points, six rebounds, and six assists. Coming off an early-season injury, Trey Murphy III scored 16, including three successful attempts from beyond the arc. With Herb Jones (23 points) and C.J. McCollum (17 points) also having good showings, the Pels shot 54% from the field and 45.2% from three-point range.

Leading Sacramento was De’Aaron Fox with 30 points and Domantas Sabonis with 26 points, 13 rebounds, and 10 assists for his second triple-double of the season. It was the Kings’ first loss in the tournament after sweeping all four games of group play.

Next up for New Orleans will be a Thursday night matchup against Lebron James and the Los Angeles Lakers in Las Vegas. Tipoff is set for 8 p.m. CT with the winner facing off against either the Milwaukee Bucks or the Indiana Pacers.

What is the NBA’s in-season tournament?

Keeping it simple, the NBA’s in-season tournament was created to not only bolster the fan experience but to give players more of an incentive than they might have had in the early stage of recent seasons. I mean who doesn’t love tournaments?

Each player gets $500,000 for winning the title, $200,000 for making the final, $100,000 for reaching the semifinals, and $50,000 for making the quarterfinals. That means Pelicans players have already racked an extra $150,000 each. The “NBA Cup” will also be presented to the winning team with an MVP being named at the end of the tournament on Saturday, Dec. 9.