New Orleans Pelicans can set playoff tone with wins before All-Star break

Starting to develop clear chemistry and comfort within their primary rotations, the New Orleans Pelicans would pick up great momentum with wins this week.

The New Orleans Pelicans have a big week ahead and it’s not just because their young forward Brandon Ingram is headed to his first NBA All-Star Game. Before the team gets a well-deserved respite at the All-Star break, they’ll have a chance to posture against two playoff-focused teams.

After two straight road wins this week against the Chicago Bulls and Indiana Pacers, the Pelicans are picking up steam on a playoff race in the West.

With the wins under their belt, the New Orleans Pelicans now sit as the 11th seed in a West, just 0.5 games behind the San Antonio Spurs for the 10th seed and 4.5 games behind the Memphis Grizzlies for the 8th seed.

This week, they’ll get a chance to host two teams that hold a lot of influence on who will and won’t make the playoffs in the Western Conference.

On Tuesday, one of the hottest teams in the league in the Portland Trail Blazers. While the Blazers are 6-4 in their last ten games and currently stand 24-29 as the ninth seed in the West, they’re getting healthier and are just starting to find their chemistry as a team.

In two games against Portland this season, the New Orleans Pelicans have taken home a pair of victories, posting tremendous defensive performances in each victory.

Picking up a 115-104 win on Nov. 19 and a 102-94 win on Dec. 23, it’ll be interesting to see if the Pelicans can seal the season series. While they’ll meet for a final time on Feb. 21, a win this Tuesday would be key for the playoff race.

As the Trail Blazers stand 2.5 games out of the eighth seed, but also just 2 games ahead of the Pelicans in the race for the eighth seed, a win over Portland is huge for playoff posture. New Orleans would win the tie-breaker of the Blazers while also gaining a game in the short run.

However, containing Damian Lillard will be the biggest task at hand for the Pelicans. In the last ten games, Lillard is averaging 41.6 points, 9.2 assists, 5.3 rebounds, and shooting 52% from three-point range on 12.7 attempts per game.

The season certainly hasn’t been optimal for Portland, but Lillard is willing his team back into the playoff picture. Plus, it seems they’ll get Jusuf Nurkić back sometime in the next month.

While their game against the Oklahoma City Thunder won’t have as much influence on the eight seed race, the New Orleans Pelicans would hugely benefit from a Thursday win over that team in their final game before the break.

In all three meetings against the Thunder, New Orleans has shown incapable of coming through late, taking losses in each opportunity.

Pelicans fans will recall the team losing two consecutive narrow games on Nov. 29 and Dec. 1 as pieces of their horrendous 13-game losing streak that once seemed to doom this team.

Key to those two games those games? New Orleans struggled to contain Chris Paul down the stretch, as the veteran seemed to have his full clutch playmaking toolkit at his disposal. New Orleans has also struggled to find an answer defensively against Dennis Schröder.

While the New Orleans Pelicans have played both teams this year to varying success, it’ll be the first time either squad will go up against Zion Williamson.

Playing in a limited sample of eight games so far this season, Williamson is averaging 19.8 points, 7/5 rebounds, and shooting 57.4% from the floor while playing 26.9 minutes, but his minutes continue to see an uptick as he picks up more in-game reps.

It’ll be important to monitor the availability of Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamon this week, despite both being expected to play on Tuesday against Portland after sitting on Saturday against the Pacers, per Oleh Kosel of The Bird Writes.

With a clean bill of health, the Pelicans could be in for a huge week of basketball that could really help set up a run of wins in the final third of the season.

Certainly, the early season struggles set an uncomfortable tone for these Pelicans, but they’re showing positive signs heading into the All-Star Break.

Next: Lonzo Ball leading motor over last 20 games

As their young core continues to pick up experience sharing the floor, including playing big games in April while hunting for a playoff birth, it’ll give the group the chance to build a winning culture.

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