Healthy New Orleans Pelicans Add to Spring Festival Season

It generally takes the Saints and Carnival seasons to pass before the attention of local sports fans turns to the New Orleans Pelicans. For those just tuning in, surprise, you have a playoff-caliber basketball team at hand.

For the past few years, injuries have plagued the Pelicans, but the team — most noticeably their star players — has been able to take the floor consistently this season, and their place in the standings shows it.

Through the first week of February, the Pelicans posted a 29-21 record — their best start through 50 games since the 2010-2011 season. They ranked seventh in the Western Conference, had the same record as the sixth-place Phoenix Suns, a half-game back of the fifth-placed Sacramento Kings, and just six games behind the conference-leading Oklahoma City Thunder.

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With the All-Star game in the rearview mirror, the NBA is now focused on the run to the postseason play-in tournament. Unless disaster strikes, the Pelicans should be well positioned for a playoff run — either by qualifying outright or by making it through the post-season play-in tournament.

In today’s game, the top six finishers in each conference qualify for the playoffs. Those who finish seventh through 10th will play in the play-in tournament to determine the seventh and eighth seeds in the playoffs in each conference.

In the play-in tournament, the seventh seed will host the eighth seed with the winner advancing as the conference’s seventh seed. Meanwhile, the ninth seed will host the 10th seed in an elimination game, with the winner advancing for a winner-take-all game against the loser of the seventheighth seed game for the eighth and final playoff spot in each conference. From there, the traditional 16-team format will be used to determine the 2023-2024 NBA champion.

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With about a month and a half left in the regular season, the Pels are poised for post-season play — if they can stay healthy. That’s been a major issue for this team over the past few years. In the first game of last season, power forward Zion Williamson — the team’s undisputed star — suffered a right hamstring injury that limited him to just 29 games played. Shooting guard Brandon Ingram missed 29 games with a left toe injury. Point guard CJ McCollum played in 75 games, but without Williamson and Ingram on the court with him consistently, the team struggled.

This season, the Pels’ “Big 3” played together in 28 of the team’s first 60 games. While that’s still under 50%, their availability has helped them be more consistent. The hope of fans now is that the trio can remain on the floor together though the end of the season and make noise in the playoffs.

Through 60 games, Williamson averaged 22.1 points per game (PPG), while Ingram had 21.8 and McCollum had 19.2. At that pace, the Big 3 were averaging a combined 63.1 PPG. Small forward Herb Jones averaged 10.8 PPG and center Jonas Valanciunas had 14.1, meaning the starting five was good for an average of 88 PPG.

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Coming off the bench, shooting guard Trey Murphy III averaged 12.7 PPG and shooting guard Jordan Hawkins averaged 10.0. The seven combined averaged 110.7 PPG. That’s an output that should keep the Pels flying high against top-tier opponents.

Still, head coach Willie Green is asking for more. Specifically, he wants the team to take more 3-point shots.

If the team’s Big 3 can stay on the floor together while simultaneously increasing their productivity, there’s no telling how good this team can be. Chris Paul, David West and Tyson Chandler were the best Big 3 to play in New Orleans, but Williamson, Ingram and CJ McCollum may be eclipsing them. The more they are on the floor together, the better they will play together. They know each other’s tendencies, get their timing down and execute smoothly.

The Pelicans have tremendous opportunity ahead. Remaining healthy and productive is the key to seizing it.

Chris Price is an award-winning journalist and public relations principal. When he’s not writing, he’s avid about music, the outdoors, and Saints, Ole Miss and Chelsea football.


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