Lonzo Ball stepping up defensively as Pelicans slowly turn season around

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Jacob Rude
·3 min read
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Once looking dead in the water this season, the New Orleans Pelicans have slowly but surely turned their season around. With four wins in their last six games, the Pelicans have moved back near .500 and back within shouting distance of the playoffs again.

Their resurgence has come largely on the defensive end of the court, led by Lonzo Ball. During that six-game span, with Ball on the court, the team has a defensive rating of 111.2, a figure that would rank them middle of the road in the league.

“I think we just trust each other a lot more,” Ball said of the defensive improvements. “Watching the film, you can see…our closeouts have been pretty short, not as hard as they’ve been recently just because I feel like guys were scared to get beat. Now we know that someone’s behind us even if we do get beat. So, just having that trust with one another has definitely boosted the defense.”

Ball has taken the reigns in those recent contests, matching up with a number of tops players. His defense on Devin Booker was highlighted by Stan Van Gundy and Brandon Ingram after Wednesday’s win over the Suns.

Similarly, against Bradley Beal, Ball held the All-Star guard to seven points in the first half before leaving just before halftime with an injury. Without Ball in the second half, Beal torched the Pelicans defense to the tune of 31 points.

Even against Sacramento, a game in which the Pelicans lost, Ball spent the bulk of the night defending Buddy Hield, holding him four points on 1-of-9 shooting. In the handful of possessions, he defended De’Aaron Fox, who exploded for 38 points, Ball allowed just two points on two field goal attempts.

“I think, defensively, I can pretty much guard one through three,” Ball said. “Whoever they ask me for that assignment on that night, I try to step up to the challenge and just do whatever I can to make the game hard for the person I’m guarding.”

And all that precedes Friday’s performance in Indianapolis. After holding Malcolm Brogdon to 4-of-11 shooting during the game, Ball made the defensive play of the night, contesting Myles Turner at the rim to force a miss on the potential game-winning layup.

Ball is quickly growing a reputation as someone who can be matched up with an opposing team’s best perimeter threat and, at the very least, make it a difficult night for his opponent.

“That’s been him. That’s been him this whole season. When he’s healthy, when he’s out there, he’s been getting after, basically, the best player on the floor and making them uncomfortable. That’s something we need from him every single night. That’s something that he’s been bringing every single night.”

That Ball is the one taking the top perimeter player on opposing defenses most often and not Eric Bledsoe, who has made consecutive All-Defense teams, is telling not just of Ball’s development but his skill level, all of which could result in Ball’s first All-Defense appearance.

Whether that’s the case at season’s end or not, Ball’s standout defense has turned around the Pelicans’ season as a whole.

OddsMoney LinePoint SpreadTotal Points
New Orleans
+310+9.5O 242.5
Milwaukee
-400-9.5U 242.5