The New Orleans Pelicans are rolling to start the season. Their latest 121-106 victory over the Denver Nuggets saw them fall behind by 14 points early in the game before steadying the ship and completing a 29-point turnaround by the final whistle.
More importantly, they did it while missing their second-leading scorer Brandon Ingram, who’s dealing with a toe injury. While Ingram’s co-star Zion Williamson got his numbers with 25 points, six rebounds, four assists, a steal and a block, the real star of the show was defensive pest Jose Alvarado.
Alvarado, who is a fantasy basketball favorite for his ability to generate steals, is not well-known as a heavy scorer. In fact, he’s averaged 8.7 points per game in 22 contests so far this season. That’s what makes his career night even more impressive, as he finished with 38 points while shooting a blistering 12 of 19 from the field and 8 of 11 from beyond the arc. He was also the instrumental piece behind the Pelicans’ first half run that got them back into the game.
While Alvarado’s performance likely won’t be repeated often, it just shows how many weapons the Pelicans have available to them on any given night. The Pelicans have six players averaging double-figures in scoring, led by Williamson’s 23.5 points per game. Larry Nance Jr. falls just short of being the seventh player in New Orleans to do so with 9.3 points, while Alvarado is averaging 8.7 points.
The Pelicans also have the second-best point differential (+7.0) in the Western Conference, and the third in the league overall, trailing only the Phoenix Suns (+8.3) and Boston Celtics (+8.1). Yes, that differential is a little skewed thanks to a 128-83 victory against the Golden State Warriors that saw Steve Kerr sit all of his star players, but it’s still impressive considering just how tight the race for positioning in the Western Conference is.
As of now, six games separate the 13th place Oklahoma City Thunder (10-13) and the first place Suns (16-7). The Pelicans currently find themselves second in the conference and will have a tough test ahead of them over their next eight games. They’ll be taking on the Detroit Pistons, who recently defeated the Mavericks and have been a stubborn side even with the Eastern Conference’s worst record. They’ll then face the Suns three times, the Utah Jazz (who are starting to come back down to earth after a blistering start) twice, and then the Milwaukee Bucks once.
Those three contests against the Suns will show us what the Pelicans are made of, as they already lost to Phoenix 124-111 in October. If they can split the season series and win their games against the Pistons and Jazz, they’ll be in a much better position to continue pushing for a top three seed.