The New Orleans Pelicans won their 4th straight last night to push their record to 15-8 overall, good for second place in the Western Conference.
The Pels are currently 6th in offensive efficiency and 3rd in defensive efficiency, so they’ve been getting it done on both ends.
The wild thing is that they are doing it without their full complement of players, as the regular starting lineup of Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram, Herb Jones, CJ McCollum and Jonas Valanciunas has only played 10 games together.
Even though the Pelicans have rarely had their full team, they haven’t missed a beat, mostly because the reserves have stepped up, showcased by Jose Alvarado and Trey Murphy III, who have both spent time in the starting lineup.
With Zion and Ingram both missing time and CJ McCollum mired in a shooting slump (and also having to miss a few games with illness), the Pels have turned to players outside of their “Big 3” to win games.
It’s been a different guy almost every night for the New Orleans Pelicans, and they are getting impact play from guys that most casual fans wouldn’t recognize, which was on full display last night.
New Orleans Pelicans: The unsung heroes
It has truly been a “next man up” mentality for the New Orleans Pelicans this season, who have had to get contributions from all over with their “Big 3” missing a lot of games. The Pels’ bench is now 8th overall in scoring and 2nd in net rating after last night’s win over Denver.
Jose Alvarado had an epic game last night to lead the Pelicans with 38 points, and Trey Murphy III got the crowd going with two thunderous dunks on his way to 12 points. He’s now scored 20+ in three of his last five games and might have done it again last night if he hadn’t gotten into foul trouble.
While these two players have stepped up for the Pelicans in increased minutes, it hasn’t just been all them.
With both Larry Nance Jr and Jonas Valanciunas having a hard time slowing down Nikola Jokic and getting into foul trouble, Willie Green turned to Willy Hernangomez, who hasn’t played much this season.
As he has always done in his career, Hernangomez stepped up when called upon, scoring 12 points and adding eight rebounds, three assists, a block and a steal. More importantly, he slowed Jokic on the boards (where he was killing New Orleans all night), got the MVP into foul trouble and knocked down 8-of-10 free throws. He turned out to be the best matchup vs. Jokic and took advantage when thrust into action.
Naji Marshall also had a great game for the Pelicans even though he only scored three points. He and Jose Alvarado changed the game with their defense in the first quarter when the Pels were getting blown out, and Naji continued to defend and make plays all night, adding six assists, two steals and a block with a team high +/- of 23 in 24 minutes of play.
Rookie Dyson Daniels got the start last night and has been great since being inserted into the rotation full time and just adds to the Pels embarrassment of long defenders who can make plays.
Zion Williamson has been playing like an MVP candidate in the last few games, but it has really been quality depth that has carried the New Orleans Pelicans to this record and what makes them such a dangerous team.