METAIRIE — The New Orleans Pelicans play their only preseason game in the Smoothie King Center when they face the Utah Jazz at 7 p.m. today.
Normally this wouldn’t attract much attention.
It’s a big prep football night as district play is getting under way in earnest.
The Tulane football team is on its biggest roll in quite some time as it prepares to host Connecticut in an American Athletic Conference game Saturday afternoon.
The LSU football team is ranked No. 5 in the country and set to play No. 7 Florida in an SEC showdown Saturday night in Tiger Stadium.
And the New Orleans Saints are 4-1 and leading the NFC South as they prepare to visit Jacksonville on Sunday.
But there’s still excitement about the Pelicans, who began the preseason with wins at Atlanta on Monday and at Chicago on Wednesday.
The NBA debut of Zion Williamson brought initial attention to the Pelicans and the team’s first two performances only enhanced that.
The Pelicans routed Atlanta 133-109 and came from behind to beat Chicago 127-125. Williamson has averaged 22.5 points and 5.5 rebounds and shot 69.2 percent from the floor.
But he was on the bench in the fourth quarter as New Orleans overcame a 23-point deficit to edge the Bulls, who led 107-86 after three quarters and extended the margin.
“The way we were playing and the way they were up was embarrassing,” guard Josh Hart said after practice Thursday.
Hart was part of a unit of reserves that played the entire fourth quarter in which New Orleans outscored Chicago 41-18. He was joined by Frank Jackson, rookie Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Kenrich Williams and Jahlil Okafor.
“That unit played good defense, good team basketball,” coach Alvin Gentry said. “We started the game that way, then we had some slippage and started to force the offense and that got us into a little bit of trouble.
Usually in preseason games like that teams stop playing, but the fact that we kept competing was really important.”
Gentry said the fourth-quarter effort was indicative of a group of young players eager to show their worth.
“In that situation there are a lot of veteran guys who would not be interested in finishing that,” Gentry said. “When you’ve got young guys really trying to establish a reputation they make the minutes they get quality minutes and they did a fantastic job.”
Williamson had 29 points and made 12 of 13 shots (all on dunks and layups) before leaving the game for good in the third quarter.
“When you move the ball and have relocation and make good cuts you can get 13 really good shots and you’re going to make a really high number of them,” Gentry said.
“(Williamson) made good decisions in the timing of his cuts, he got out on the break and put himself in position to receive the ball.”
Gentry said he’ll use some lineups Friday that he’s not likely to use in the regular season, but has to do so in order to get enough guys quality minutes for evaluation. He said after this game the coaching staff will start to zero in on a rotation with the season opener at Toronto looming Oct. 22.
“I love the depth that we have,” Gentry said.