The New Orleans Pelicans nearly pulled off a dramatic comeback victory in their home opener against the Jazz, and it was nice to see them continue to fight after Brandon Ingram and then Zion Williamson went out with injuries.
But New Orleans is past the stage of feeling good about moral victories, and probably never should have been in the position to be down by 17 in the 4th quarter at home to the Jazz, a team that traded away its two best players in the offseason.
Not to take away from the Jazz, as they played a great game and are actually much better than many people (myself included) gave them credit for coming into the season, as it appeared they were going to be one of the teams tanking for Victor Wembanyama.
Instead they’ve started the season 3-0, beating three good teams, so you have to give Utah credit for the game they played. The Pelicans still probably should have won, and this loss did reveal a couple of areas of possible weakness for the Pels.
New Orleans Pelicans: Health is once again an issue
Look, both injuries to Ingram and Zion were freak accidents that could have happened to anyone. This wasn’t an issue of some nagging injury or anyone being out of shape, they occurred during hard fought plays in the game. Injuries happen.
But we all know the Pelicans history when it comes to injuries to Zion and BI, so until they can both stay on the floor together at the same time, this is going to be an issue for the Pelicans.
They didn’t play together at all in the preseason and now didn’t make it through game three without both of them getting hurt. Hopefully, these are just minor injuries but you can’t help but be concerned.
The Pelicans could struggle to defend stretch bigs
The Jazz don’t run a traditional center in their starting lineup and instead use bigs Kelly Olynyk and Lauri Markkanen, who prefer to roam the perimeter. I thought the Pelicans would take advantage of this by dominating the paint with Zion and Jonas Valanciunas, but JV had an off night, going 2-of-11 for six points in just 24 minutes.
Zion was having a big night before he went down with injury, but so were the Jazz bigs, as Olynyk and Markkanen ended with a combined 51 points and Zion and JV were a combined -14 on the floor together.
New Orleans had better luck with Larry Nance Jr. chasing those guys around on the perimeter, so we could see more of him and Jaxson Hayes in situations where the other team doesn’t have a big who plays in the paint.
The Pelicans have the personnel to better match up with smaller, more perimeter oriented teams this season, so this is an issue Willie Green should be able to solve.
But he can’t keep players from getting injured, so the health of the New Orleans Pelicans’ stars is going to continue to be at the forefront of the narrative until they get back on the floor tougher and stay there.