Hawks, Pelicans look for growth in final weeks
The Atlanta Hawks and the New Orleans Pelicans have a lot in common.
They both saw their playoff hopes disappear a while ago.
Both are focused on developing young players as they finish out the season.
And both have had chances to gauge themselves against contending teams in recent games.
That's where the similarity ends as the Pelicans prepare to host the Hawks on Tuesday. Atlanta has won two consecutive games against playoff teams and New Orleans has lost two consecutive games against playoff contenders.
The Hawks' most recent victory came Saturday night when rookie guard Trae Young had 11 assists and scored 32 points, including a last-second basket that produced a 129-127 home against
Philadelphia, which had won its last six games and is the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference.
Young created his basket off the dribble after receiving an in-bounds pass with 3.5 seconds on the game clock.
"Those are the type of plays you live for, with the clock counting down," Young said. "I just wanted to get to my strong suit and get to my pull-up, that mid-range floater I have."
Teammate John Collins said the winning play was a very simple one.
"Give the ball to Trae, and he takes off," Collins said.
The young Hawks, who matched a season-high with 74 first-half points, have won two of three against the Sixers and the last victory was preceded two days earlier by a 117-114 home victory against
Utah, which is on the verge of clinching a playoff spot. Young had 23 points and 11 assists in that contest.
According to the Hawks, Young's five games with 30 points and 10 assists tied Stephen Curry and Michael Jordan for the second-most by a rookie, trailing only the 24 by Oscar Robertson.
If Young starts the final eight games, he will join Dominique Wilkins and Stacey Augmon as the only Atlanta rookies to start all 82 games. He already holds the franchise records for assists and 3-pointers by a rookie.
Young was the fifth player selected in last year's draft, selected by Dallas and traded to Atlanta, so big things were expected of him right away.
New Orleans, though, is relying on less-heralded youngsters, especially with starters Jrue Holiday and E'Twaun Moore sidelined by injury.
Frank Jackson is a rookie guard even though he was drafted in the second round two years ago by Charlotte and traded to the Pelicans. He missed all of last season because of a foot injury, but has shown glimpses of his potential lately.
He had a team-high 19 points and a career-high six assists in the Pelicans' 113-90 home loss to Houston on Sunday. The victory clinched a playoff spot for Houston, which sits in third place in the West.
Jackson, fellow rookie Kenrich Williams and third-year forward Cheick Diallo are among the young players getting a long look from the Pelicans down the stretch.
"We want to play to win games," New Orleans coach Alvin Gentry said, "but I think we've got to look at the bigger picture."
Williams was challenged with the task of defending Rockets guard James Harden, who had scored a combined 118 points in Houston's last two victories. Harden had a mere 28 points, eight below his league-leading average, against New Orleans, but he played only played 29 minutes as the Rockets dominated from beginning to end.
"Obviously with the score the way it was," Gentry said, "I don't know how hungry (Harden) was to try to go get baskets."
The loss to the Rockets was preceded by a 119-96 loss in Orlando against the Magic, who are within striking distance of the final playoff spot in the East.
The Pelicans have lost eight of their last nine games, including a 128-116 loss to the Hawks on March 10 in Atlanta.
--Field Level Media
Updated March 25, 2019