On December 30, 2022, things looked rosy for the New Orleans Pelicans. They were riding high in the Western Conference standings and had just defeated the Philadelphia 76ers, who had James Harden, Joel Embiid and Tyrese Maxey available to push their record to 23-12.
They were still missing Brandon Ingram then, but CJ McCollum had dropped 42 points, four rebounds, five assists and two steals on 13 of 20 shooting. Zion Williamson chipped in 36 points and five rebounds of his own while also shooting red-hot at a 13 of 19 clip.
It was logical, then, that Pelicans fans were entertaining serious hopes of a high seed heading in the playoffs, but things went south from that point onward. Since that victory against Philadelphia, they have gone 8-22 and are now sitting sitting in 12th place in the Western Conference, desperately hoping to fight their way back to a play-in position.
Their most recent game, a 123-108 loss to the Sacramento Kings, showed how tough things have been for them lately. After forcing a 59-59 tie at halftime, the Pelicans were held to just 20 points in the third quarter as the Kings raced to 97-79 lead heading into the fourth quarter. While the Kings have the league’s strongest offense, they also have the third most-porous defense in the NBA. The Kings allow opponents to score 118.4 points per game, and were missing De’Aaron Fox, but still managed to clamp down in what is considered a great defensive performance for that particular team.
As of this writing, New Orleans’ current 31-34 record is the same as three teams above them: the Utah Jazz, Portland Trail Blazers and Los Angeles Lakers. Being the bottom team out of those for means that their path the play-ins gets even harder, especially as they continue to miss key personnel.
Of their top four players, only two have played in the majority of their games:
- Jonas Valanciunas: 62 games (14.3 PPG, 9.7 RPG)
- CJ McCollum: 58 games (21.0 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 5.8 APG)
- Brandon Ingram: 30 games (23.3 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 4.8 APG)
- Zion Williamson: 29 games (26.0 PPG, 7.0 RPG, 4.6 APG, 1.1 SPG)
Of those games, McCollum, Ingram and Williamson have only played in 10 games together, a little reminiscent of how rarely Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden actually took to the court together in their one year together with the Brooklyn Nets.
So, while the talent is there, the Pelicans have never had a chance to field their full complement of players together, which also makes building chemistry a big concern. It’s unfortunate for both Pelicans and casual NBA fans that their season has become derailed like this, especially since they’re so exciting whenever Williamson is on the floor, and his long-term health is still going to be a concern heading into next season.
What’s happened to the Pelicans is another reminder about why fans need to temper expectations midway through the season. I hope that the Pelicans manage to get healthy and get back to their winning ways, but it looks like this might be a lost season.