Pelicans, Willie Green face daunting 15-game stretch

Trey Murphy III & CJ McCollum, New Orleans Pelicans. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)
Trey Murphy III & CJ McCollum, New Orleans Pelicans. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images) /

New Orleans Pelicans head coach Willie Green has talked several times about how the team breaks down each season into 10-game segments. Well, there may be no tougher stretch than the 10-15 game stretch that starts Monday night in Denver against the current champions.

The Pelicans are sitting pretty and feeling fine at 4-2 through the opening half-dozen games. Considering the plane issues in Oklahoma City paired with Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram missing time, it was a great start for the third-year head coach. There were missteps, and the starting five needs to iron out some wrinkles, but fans could see the team’s concepts had purpose and were working for the most part.

Well, the news that CJ McCollum is dealing with a collapse of the right lung brought all those high hopes crashing down once again. The last time McCollum sat out due to a lung issue, he missed 18 games. There are only 15 games until the NBA In-Season Tournament knockout rounds begin, and it is a very challenging slate.

The next few weeks for the Pelicans are a daunting challenge

This squad has seen the rough sides of long-lasting losing streaks to start a season before. Next up is a three-game road trip to Denver, Minnesota, and Houston. The visit to the Rockets is also an In-Season Tournament group stage game. Nikola Jokic’s Nuggets are already humming along at a championship standard yet again. The Timberwolves have issues, but winning in Houston is probably their best bet. That’s a 1-2 week.

The next six games are at home, but it’s basically a mini-playoff series practice run. Dallas twice, Denver and Minnesota on a weekend back-to-back set, and then twice against Sacramento. The Pelicans have to protect homecourt just to stay above .500 heading into the holiday season.

New Orleans has a back-to-back, three-in-four-day set starting in Los Angeles (Clippers) and ending with two games in Utah. Then it’s back home to face MVP Joel Embiid (11/29) and Victor Wembanyama (12/1). The Pelicans will step out in Chicago (12/2) before knowing where their games are the following week. They could even be headed to Vegas.

But I wouldn’t bet on it. No one on the roster can replace what McCollum has been providing on a night-in, night-out basis. Not Zion, not Ingram, not the hopefully returning soon Jose Alvarado. McCollum will be missed, and it will probably show up in the standings. There are no easy games where the team’s two All-Stars can expect to coast to victory.

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