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May 4, 2021; New Orleans, Louisiana, USA; New Orleans Pelicans guard Lonzo Ball (2) gestures in the fourth quarter while defended by Golden State Warriors guard Andrew Wiggins (22) at the Smoothie King Center. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

The New Orleans Pelicans are 30-36 and 11th in the Western Conference standings. That puts them 1.5 games behind the Spurs for the 10th seed — just outside the NBA's newly implemented play-in tournament for teams finishing seventh through 10th in the conference standings.

The Pelicans are on the verge of missing the playoffs for the third consecutive season, so their six remaining regular-season games – each against a team either in a playoff or play-in tournament spot at the moment – are crucial. And it appears that Lonzo Ball understands that loud and clear.

Ball is enjoying his best season, averaging a career-high 14.6 points with 5.8 rebounds, 6.4 assists and 1.5 steals while defending at a high level. He matched a career high with 33 points in Tuesday night’s win over the Warriors, adding six boards, four assists and a steal on 48% shooting with seven 3-pointers.

The night prior, against that same Golden State team, Zo shot 3 of 18 and scored just seven points. But good players respond after a bad game, and he did just that.

“It’s very rare for me to have two bad games in a row, I hold myself to that,” Ball said after the win. “I told Z (Zion Williamson) last night (Monday) I’ll be with him today, and I did my best I could.”

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Lonzo Ball talks New Orleans Pelicans win over the Golden State Warriors

Ball did do his best, scoring 12 of his 33 in the fourth quarter, including a couple of clutch buckets in the final moments to ice the 108-103 victory. We also saw the former No. 2 overall pick do something out of the norm for him: Talk smack to the opposing team, and he did it to a former DPOY in Draymond Green.

It was a confident and fearless side of Zo that we don’t see often. The Pelicans’ floor general has now recorded 33 points in two of his past three games, having knocked down a combined 15 triples in those outings.

Ball’s teammate, and perhaps favorite person to pass the rock to, Williamson, told reporters that Zo texted him following Monday’s loss saying, “My fault about last night, but I'm gonna be there tomorrow.” And Zion added this about playing alongside Zo:

“I’m glad he’s my teammate. You love to have teammates like that, that can say stuff like that and come the next day and show out. He just wants to win. That's what I love about Lonzo. He wants to win, and he’ll do whatever it takes to win.”

Before this season began, Ball and the Pelicans – who face the 76ers in Philadelphia on Friday night – had talked about a possible contract extension. The point guard was going into the final year of his rookie deal, and players typically prefer to sign their extensions before the year starts to avoid distractions.

No agreement was reached, and Ball will become a restricted free agent this summer. He’s reportedly seeking $20 million annually, and if he keeps rising to the occasion, he'd figure to be part of New Orleans' long-term plans.

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