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Andrew Lopespan

NEW Orleans — New Orleans captain Lonzo Ball is no stranger to rumors. He spent an entire season with the Los Angeles Lakers listening to how he could do before finally landing with the Pelicans in the summer of 2019. But while Ball had a rough start to the season in 2020-21, his name was once again the talk of the day.

But to his delight, Ball responded with a back-to-back performance. The Pelican scored nine points and four assists in Wednesday’s game against Washington. He hit three three-pointers in the first period while defending Bradley Beal before spraining his ankle and missing the second period.

Ball returned Friday night and played his best game of the season in a 131-126 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks. Ball scored 27 points (his highest point total in a Pelican jersey), seven triples and eight points, his second-highest point total of the season.

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I’m staying in the race, Ball said when asked if he had extra motivation this week. I’ve been playing basketball for a long time. I work hard and I just try to play my game. That’s how I play. I just try to stay away from all that noise and go out on the field and try to help my team win games.

Stan Van Gundy, the Pelicans’ coach, said he had talked to Ball earlier this week about cutting down on the noise and playing at a high level.

Nobody likes distractions, but distractions happen all the time, Van Gundy told reporters Wednesday. It’s a business rumor, it’s COVID, it’s family, whatever. Other voices. There are always distractions, and a big part of being successful in this league is focusing on the distractions and doing your job.

The Pelicans’ goalie, Lonzo Ball, finished with 27 points and eight assists Friday night against the Bucks. Lane Murdock Jr./NBAE via Getty Images

David Griffin, executive vice president of basketball operations at the Pelicans, told ESPN radio in New Orleans on Thursday that he believes Ball responded with one of his best series of the year against the Wizards.

I think he realized it’s good that people are calling your name because that means other teams want you, Griffin told the radio station.

For Ball, the answer was to play more aggressively, which his coaches and teammates have been asking him to do all season.

Pelican center Steven Adams, who had 20 rebounds against the Bucks, said when the ball plays aggressively and tries to get into the paint and score, it helps the whole offense.

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Adams said he did an excellent job of that. Again, brother, with any player on defense, when you see someone coming at you with that kind of body language and taking that kind of angle, it forces you to make a pretty drastic decision.

That puts you in a difficult situation. Instead of being passive, the defense can be: Honey, I can be passive too. Our guys did a good job with the corners and made sure the defense had to rotate, and then we found an open man from there.

The Pelicans finished the season with 32 assists and Adams provided an offensive spark on Friday. It also helped that the Pelicans were shooting.

In addition to Ball’s big night, his baseline partner Eric Bledsoe also had seven 3s. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Ball and Bledsoe are the fifth starting backcourt in NBA history to hit at least seven three-pointers in a single game, alongside Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson (three times), James Harden and Eric Gordon, Damon Stoudamire and Nick Van Exel, and Michael Dickerson and Cattino Mobley.

If the movement of the ball was the key to the Pelicans’ success on Friday, the will to find the right shot helped as well. And for Ball it was just a matter of shooting when he got the ball. He hit 6 of 9 three-pointers, showing he was willing to look open instead of making an extra pass.

We like to see that, Pelicans forward Zion Williamson said. When he hits the ball with so much confidence, even when he misses, just with the certainty that the ball is going in, that’s what we want from Zo. He scored seven times tonight and they were all important for us.

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