It wasn’t pretty, but the New Orleans Pelicans’ 104-98 win over the Detroit Pistons last night got the job done.
It was an important win for a couple of reasons. The first is that the Pels are getting ready to embark on one of the most difficult and important stretches of their schedule, with three of their next five games against the Phoenix Suns.
The second is that the win, coupled with Phoenix’s defeat last night, put the New Orleans Pelicans alone in 1st place in the Western Conference, a place they hope to stay.
It’s been awhile since the Pels were atop the West, and they have gotten there behind a full team effort, plenty of chemistry and the recent brilliance of Zion Williamson, who has averaged 29.3 points, 10.3 rebounds and 5.5 assists over his last four games.
The Pelicans are now 6th in offensive efficiency and 3rd in defensive efficiency. They are scoring the 5th-most points per game in the NBA and allowing the 6th-fewest. And the wild thing is that they haven’t even played their best basketball, which is a good sign that this stint atop the West may not be brief.
New Orleans Pelicans: 1st place without the Big 3
Coming into the season we knew that the New Orleans Pelicans had one of the best “Big 3s” in the Western Conference with Zion, Brandon Ingram and CJ McCollum.
But so far they’ve gotten limited contributions from them as a group, as Zion has missed five games, Ingram has missed nine and counting, and McCollum has missed four games. CJ is also mired in the worst shooting slump of his career, shooting 39 percent from the floor and just 32 percent from 3-point range, both the worst of his career.
With Herb Jones also missing seven games so far, the Pelicans’ regular starting five has only played together 10 times this season, but just keep piling up the wins anyway.
Their role players are getting the job done, as everyone from Jose Alvarado to Trey Murphy III to Naji Marshall to rookie Dyson Daniels have stepped up on different nights. The Pels have been carried by their depth, and these high-pressure reps for their role players are going to pay dividends down the road, as the Pels get deeper into the season and are trying to keep everyone healthy.
We’ve not even seen the best of this team yet and they are sitting in 1st place in a loaded conference, which has to have fans excited. Of course, they play the Suns tomorrow and are just a half game ahead of them, so things could flip-flop, and I am sure the Pelicans will go through some tough stretches at some point.
But for now they are in first place and have every intention of staying there, and with BI and Herb coming back soon, the Pelicans still have room to improve, which should terrify the rest of the NBA.