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The NBA Play-In Tournament has already begun and heading into Wednesday night, the San Antonio and New Orleans Pelicans will battle for a chance to take on the Los Angeles Clippers in the Western Conference 8-seed Game on Friday night.

Hosting this Play-In Game on Wednesday night, the Pelicans will be looking to clinch their first trip to the playoffs since 2018.

Led by Brandon Ingram and CJ McCollum offensively, the Pelicans have really started to piece things together in order to become a complete team late in the year. Against a younger, inexperienced Spurs team, the Pelicans will definitely have a mental edge in this Play-In Game.

Speaking of the Spurs, they enter this game against New Orleans riding a three-game win streak to end the regular season.

Dejounte Murray, Keldon Johnson and Devin Vassell are all young, proven scorers in San Antonio and all three of these guys have done some damage to the Pelicans over the course of their four-game regular season series.

Beating them in three out of four games this year already, the San Antonio Spurs have seemed to figure out the blueprints to beating the New Orleans Pelicans.

Both the Spurs and Pelicans are two athletic teams at the bottom of the Western Conference Play-In Tournament and they are each facing some key questions heading into their matchup with one another on Wednesday night.

Will New Orleans Be Able to Contain Dejounte Murray?

He may only be 25-years-old, but Dejounte Murray took a major leap during the 2021-22 season, becoming a first-time All-Star and the new leader of the San Antonio Spurs.

In 68 games, the dynamic point guard averaged 21.1 points, 8.3 rebounds, 9.2 assists, 2.0 steals (league-leading) and he shot 46.2% from the floor. Murray also recorded 13 triple-doubles, the second-most triple-doubles out of anyone in the NBA this season trailing only Nikola Jokic (19).

In four games against the Pelicans this season, Murray averaged 18.3 points, 9.8 rebounds, 10.0 assists and shot 40.3% from the floor while recording two triple-doubles.

The last time these two teams met in March, Dejounte Murray recorded 15 points, 11 rebounds and 13 assists.

Now, with their season on the line, we should expect to see Dejounte Murray come out fast and firing on all cylinders offensively, which is why stopping him will be a headache for the Pelicans.

Rookie Herb Jones could very well match up with Murray early on in this game simply because he has emerged as one of the best on-ball defenders in the entire league.

Keeping the young Spurs guard out of the paint and forcing him to take tough, contested jumpers is the key to breaking down San Antonio’s offense, which is why the Pelicans cannot afford to let Murray get going early on in this game.

He will get his shots and baskets simply because he is an All-Star, but the Pelicans can and must limit his ability to attack them every single possession. Taking the ball out of Dejounte Murray's hands and forcing someone else to beat them needs to be in the Pelicans' game plans.

Who Will Step Up Next to Ingram, McCollum for New Orleans?

Combined this season, Brandon Ingram and CJ McCollum have averaged 47.0 points per game for the Pelicans.

They are the two main focal points offensively, with Jonas Valanciunas also being involved as a low-post threat and second-chance opportunity scorer off of rebounds, but the question for the Pelicans in this Play-In Game against the Spurs revolves around their secondary talent.

Herbert Jones is not much of a high-level scorer, nor is Jaxson Hayes, but these two will be important for the Pelicans on offense.

Both Jones and Hayes are going to have opportunities to score and New Orleans can get a huge boost offensively if these two can combine for 15-plus points on Wednesday.

This may not seem like a lot, but the Pelicans have turned themselves into a strong defensive team and if they can get out to an early first-half lead, they can potentially start to run away with the game if their defense is on-point.

Finding that third key scorer in this game against the Spurs is not only important for the Pelicans so they can continue their season, but so they have a fighting chance to earn a real playoff spot and potentially make some noise in the first-round against the Phoenix Suns, should they make it that far.

With Zion Williamson out, someone else needs to step up next to Brandon Ingram and CJ McCollum. With the Pelicans not having too many other reliable scorers, this burden falls on the laps of both Herbert Jones and Jaxson Hayes, two other projected starters in this game.

Can San Antonio Get Offensive Production Out on the Perimeter?

Against the Pelicans this season, the Spurs shot 42-132 (31.8%) from three-point range.

All season long, the Spurs have been a mediocre three-point shooting team, as they have shot a combined 35.2% from long-range as a team.

On the other side of things, the Pelicans have not done a good job at defending the three-point line, as they have allowed their opponent’s to shoot 36.5% from deep, the fifth-highest percentage allowed in the league this season.

San Antonio’s shooting woes against the Pelicans this year are definitely concerning and with this game being on the road, the Spurs are going to have to hit some big shots from the perimeter to hang around with a Pelicans team that does not give up a ton of overall scoring opportunities.

Josh Richardson (44.4%), Keldon Johnson (39.8%) and Devin Vassell (36.1%) will be key in the Spurs’ offensive attack on Wednesday night and each of these three guys will need to knock down multiple three-pointers for San Antonio to find success offensively.

New Orleans is going to zero-in on defending Dejounte Murray and trying to keep him from going to the rim, which is why Johnson, Vassell and Richardson will be key.

These three guys will be able to move around on the perimeter as the Pelicans sink their defense in to stop Murray, creating open looks from beyond the three-point line.

If the Spurs can control the three-point line on Wednesday and shoot above 35% from deep, then they can come out of New Orleans with a victory, continuing their season for at least one more game. 

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