It has been quite the roller coaster ride for the New Orleans Pelicans this season. They have truly experienced an up-and-down journey for pretty much the whole year, and what’s crazy is it isn’t over yet.
The Pels head into their 2022-23 campaign as the sexy, darkhorse pick to be the new top dogs in the Western Conference. After all, they were coming off a solid 2022 run where they earned a playoff berth from the play-in tournament and proceeded to take the season’s winningest team, Phoenix Suns (64-18), into six games before bowing out. Their two victories in the series also featured resiliency and tenacity on both ends.
It started as such. The team simply had a very interesting core that provides a little bit of everything: Brandon Ingram is a high-scoring forward, Zion Williamson – who’s back from a one-year absence – is a massively framed athletic freak that can pound the rock for points, Jonas Valanciunas is a big presence in the paint with a developing outside shot, new Pelican CJ McCollum is a walking bucket, and 2021-22 revelation Jose Alvarado is a pesky defender that became a fan favourite. Resident ‘3 and D’ players Herb Jones and Trey Murphy III also held their own.
Head coach Willie Green’s name continued to pop off too. He came from the Golden State Warriors and Phoenix Suns coaching staff, and lived up to the hype by putting out a defensive-minded team that came with offense.
They surprisingly ran over the then Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving-led Brooklyn Nets in the ’22 opener, 130-108, and jumped into first place in the West by mid-December, all while looking like the most fun team in the league. They were 18-8 in December 13th, averaging 117.6 points with a +6 net rating and a defense that forces 15.6 turnovers per game – things were clicking.
Unfortunately, bad luck just kept rolling in – Ingram got hurt in late November and Williamson did too in early January. Once the latter was sidelined, the Pels struggled to adjust and went on to drop 13 of their next 16 games, which included a rough 10-game losing streak. Ingram returned in the middle of it but it still didn’t look promising.
In mid-February, more bad news came as NBA insider Shams Charania reported that Williamson will once again miss more time. The 22-year-old is now slated to miss more than 190 games by regular season’s end, including all of last season. He’s just in his fourth year.
From there, the Pelicans just became mediocre at best, which, as expected drowned them into 12th place in mid-March.
Like we said, it has been an up-and-down campaign, so just when everyone was writing them off, they manage to rack up much-needed wins. It also came at a perfect time as fellow Western Conference squad Dallas Mavericks were suddenly losing.
These resilient Pelicans are back from the dead. They have won four in a row and have climbed into 37-37, good for ninth in the West, and tied with no. 7 Minnesota Timberwolves and no. 8 Los Angeles Lakers. Their defense has risen as well, as evident in ranking number one in defensive rating and second in net rating over the past week.
One might say they benefitted from an easy stretch, given how they got the bottoming Houston Rockets, San Antonio Spurs, and Charlotte Hornets in three consecutive games. However, they maintained their pace against the LA Clippers on Sunday and routed them in LA, 131-110.
Also, New Orleans’ other key forward, Brandon Ingram, has been playing well. The one-time All-Star is scoring 30.0 points, 5.3 boards, and 9.8 assists in the team’s four-game winning streak, topped off by boasting an efficient shooting split: 51.8%/43.8%/96.2%.
Such a stretch is making the race out West even more intense, with playoff seedings probably changing until the very last game of the season. Buckle up. Most regular seasons don’t end with this much action.