New season for Ingram, Williams

Ex-Laker on Pelicans; Clippers’ guard on hopes

- Mark Medina

HOUSTON – On the court, Brandon Ingram seems more assertive. Off the court, he seems more talkative.

It reflects the growth Ingram has shown entering his fourth NBA season. It captures the perspectiv­e he gained amid three mixed years with the Lakers, getting traded to the Pelicans and staying sidelined for seven months after doctors discovered a blood clot in his right arm. And it captures his mindset as New Orleans tries to navigate the beginning of the 2019-20 season while rookie Zion Williamson stays sidelined with a right knee injury.

So when the Pelicans finished with a 126-123 loss to the Rockets on Saturday, Ingram did not boast about his 35point performanc­e on 14 of 22 shooting, along with 15 rebounds and five assists. Instead, Ingram sounded more determined to ensure the Pelicans rectify their 0-3 start before Williamson’s expected return in five to seven weeks.

“When we lose like this, I’ll take it the hardest,” Ingram told USA TODAY Sports. “I know I can score the basketball and I can make plays for my team. So I definitely take it the hardest.”

Granted, the Pelicans are all trying to shoulder a bigger load amid Williamson’s absence and Jrue Holiday missing Saturday’s game because of a sprained left knee. Josh Hart started in Holiday’s place and defended Rockets star James

Harden, who had 29 points, albeit on an 8 of 29 shooting clip. Pelicans third-year guard Lonzo Ball also showed an improved shot (18 points on 6 of 13 shooting) and crafty playmaking (10 assists).

But Ingram has willingly shouldered most of the burden to ensure the Pelicans do not suddenly morph from a possible playoff contender into a lottery team. After opening the season with 25 points and five rebounds in an eight-point overtime loss to the Raptors, Ingram increased his totals in a seven-point loss to Dallas to 25 points and eight rebounds. Despite finishing one point shy of his career high, Ingram criticized himself for missing two layups and shooting 3 of 5 from the free throw line. Perhaps a 40-point performanc­e awaits soon.

“He plays like he has a chip on his shoulder,” Hart observed about Ingram. “That’s when those kind of guys are dangerous. Today was a small sample of what he can do.”

What has fueled Ingram to have this chip? Well, a few things.

One, Ingram missed a combined 30 games last season after the Lakers’ doctors discovered in early March that he had a blood clot known as deep venous thrombosis.

To Ingram’s relief, he did not receive a life-threatenin­g diagnosis. Nor did doctors believe it could end his NBA career as is it did to former forward Chris Bosh after his 13th season.

Still, Ingram needed to have surgery to remove a rib, strengthen his back muscles and improve his posture to ensure the passage of his veins opened up. After the surgery, Ingram reported that both arms felt “super weak” and he remained immobile for almost a month. He waited another four months before beginning physical therapy. Ingram began working out only about a month before training camp started.

“I was away from the basketball game for so long. When I play it now, I just like to take advantage of it,” he said. “That was a crazy process for me. So when I step out on the floor, it’s just fun for me.”

Secondly, Ingram echoes team accounts that portray him as feeling more relieved than sad that the Lakers included him in the trade package for Anthony Davis shortly before the draft in June.

Ever since selecting Ingram second overall in 2016, he intrigued the Lakers with his perimeter scoring, wing defense and work ethic. He became one of 12 NBA players last season to average at least 18 points while shooting 49% from the field with five rebounds. Still, Ingram has sparked questions around the league about his 6-9, 190-pound frame, his durability and if he can ever morph into an All-Star. It did not help that the Lakers felt Ingram and LeBron James often got in each other’s way.

As much as Ingram pledged “not to listen to the outside noise,” that noise became increasing­ly louder. The Lakers included most of their young roster in discussion­s with the Pelicans about Davis before the trade deadline. The Lakers eventually dealt Ingram, Ball, Hart and three draft picks while keeping third-year forward Kyle Kuzma. Ingram is also in the fourth and final year of his contract before becoming a restricted free agent next summer.

“I would say this is a better environmen­t,” Ingram said. “There are a lot of genuine people here that are pretty solid. No shame to the Lakers, because they are a high-class organizati­on. They do everything well and have a good fan base. But I like this spot better.”

Therefore, he pledged to stay determined through the Pelicans’ early losing streak without Williamson with the same approach he took through a health scare and persistent trade rumors.

“He’s a better all-around player because he’s worked at it,” Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said. “He’s done a good job at working on his game and working on his craft and getting better at it.”

 ?? TROY TAORMINA/USA TODAY SPORTS ?? Brandon Ingram is averaging 27.3 points through three games in his first season with the Pelicans after being packaged by the Lakers in the Anthony Davis trade.
TROY TAORMINA/USA TODAY SPORTS Brandon Ingram is averaging 27.3 points through three games in his first season with the Pelicans after being packaged by the Lakers in the Anthony Davis trade.

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