The New Orleans Pelicans looked good in their return to The Blender. In fact, they looked fantastic.
Since their 120-111 loss to Philadelphia Monday night, all eyes have been on Zion Williamson, and for good reason. How will this Pelicans team maintain their elite play without their two best stars?
Willie Green and this squad wasted no time answering that question.
Within minutes, the Pelicans were up double digits. Everything seemed to be going their way. CJ McCollum, Jose Alvarado, and Trey Murphy were knocking down jumpers, Jonas Valanciunas was getting it done inside, and Naji seemed to do it all.
The Rockets made a push late in the fourth quarter, but it was all too late. The Pelicans would hold on for a 119-108 victory. Three things stood out in this performance:
1. With or without Zion, this team is good
All week, many wondered how this team would look without Zion Williamson. Those concerns, if not last season, were answered Wednesday night.
Zion is incredibly important to this franchise and the team is better with him on the floor, but the Pelicans can win without him. We saw it all last season and now we’re seeing it again.
It is yet another testament to how great this squad is. They’ve dealt with various injuries and many lineup changes and have continued to adjust to the situation. Despite who’s on the floor, the Pelicans showed that they are still one of the league’s top teams and a problem in the West.
2. Naji Marshall continues to get it done
Naji Marshall had yet another great game Wednesday night. He finished with 16 points and seven rebounds. However, it was his passing that stole the show. His four assists were electric. He found Trey Murphy inside for a dunk twice and CJ McCollum on the top of the key for a big three.
With each game, Naji is gaining more confidence and delivering. His play has been huge for the Pelicans. Without their two top players, more will be asked of Naji Marshall. At this rate, he will continue to be a big positive for this squad.
3. Let CJ cook and good things will happen
CJ McCollum has been on a tear.
Since December 22, McCollum has logged two 40-point games and five games over 20 points.
Against Houston Wednesday night, he got going early. He opened the game by knocking down his first two jumpers and finished the game with 28 points.
McCollum’s veteran presence is very important to this team during this stretch without Williamson and Ingram. To weather the storm and stay atop the Western Conference, his play needs to be excellent.
The Pelicans need to continue to feed CJ McCollum and let the offense run through him. His play has been stellar recently and riding the hot hand seems like the obvious thing to do in this situation. Feed your star guard and let him cook.