The New Orleans Pelicans Are Closing In On That Final Play-In Spot Despite Their Horrendous Start To The Season

Photo Credit: AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki

The New Orleans Pelicans Are Closing In On That Final Play-In Spot Despite Their Horrendous Start To The Season


The New Orleans Pelicans are hot on the trail for the final play-in spot in the Western Conference, now just 1.5 games behind the Portland Trail Blazers. 

While they’re still far from full strength without Zion Williamson, the Pels are learning to manage without him and Brandon Ingram, the league’s Most Improved Player in 2020, is playing at an All-Star level again, having stepped up to become the player the team needs him to be, as well as its late-game closer.

The Pelicans are well within a shot of making it to the NBA’s mini-tournament and, given that Damian Lillard is out indefinitely following news of abdominal surgery, their chances are even higher. Fans grabbing odds from Louisiana online sportsbooks will certainly find themselves tempted to place bets on the Pels’ play-in and playoff prospects now.

New Orleans has been benefiting from major production from their starting five, with the likes of Josh Hart, Herb Jones, and Jonas Valanciunas showing improvement at this stage of the season. Should the team make some moves to upgrade their bench in the trade market, they will likely be favored to earn the final play-in spot in the West. They will have to navigate through what appears to be a cumbersome schedule for the rest of January, though.

They’re 6-2 at home since December 10 and are making their home court a fortress, with the loud crowds becoming a huge help. The fans are getting treated to some very good basketball in return. Also to their advantage is the fact that the teams around them have been shaky amid their positive run. 

The Pelicans are tied with the San Antonio Spurs, who have lost four straight games, also winning only two from their last 10. Of course, you should count a Gregg Popovich-led team out at your own risk but San Antonio is entering a rough stretch on the schedule themselves. 


New Orleans Pelicans


The Sacramento Kings are playing as they typically do: unconvincingly. Alvin Gentry, who stepped in as an interim coach following Luke Walton’s firing, is this close to having a meltdown while most of the players have found themselves the subject of trade rumors, leading to suggestions of a complete rebuild.

The Blazers, meanwhile, will be without Lillard for some time and, while he is expected to return before the end of the season, they will definitely have difficulty keeping up. 

The Minnesota Timberwolves are five games ahead of the Pels but are pretty inconsistent and only recently lost to New Orleans. 

The Pelicans don’t have to be perfect to get past all of the aforementioned sides but could do with some movement in the market in order to improve their bench. All in all, things are certainly looking up for the team on the back of their immensely poor start.

Ingram’s current form could prompt a second All-Star appearance for the former Los Angeles Lakers forward. The Pelicans’ win over Minnesota on Tuesday night came courtesy of a deep three-pointer with 0.3 seconds left on the clock that took the scores to 128-125 on the back of a back-and-forth contest. 

The shot saw one of the loudest roars the Smoothie King Center has heard this term and head coach Willie Green would express pride in how far his players have come since the start of the season.

“I’m extremely proud. That’s the message for our team. … It’s a credit to them,” Green said. “Not the ideal start that we wanted. But every day our mindset is not necessarily on the results, but trying to improve. If we do that, and we come in with joy … the results will come.”

Ingram was singled out as the coach stated the obvious: that they will keep going to him in crunch situations. 

“We trust Brandon,” the head coach declared. “He puts the work in all summer long when no one is looking. In practice, he’s one of the first guys there every day. He wants to be great, not good. We’re going to keep putting the ball in his hands at the end of the game. … It’s not a surprise to us that Brandon’s making shots like that, and he’s carrying our team.”

The player isn’t shying away from such moments and is ready to shoulder the blame when the Pelicans go to him late and lose.

“At the end of the night, when we lose, it’s going to be on me. I just take that, and regardless, just make the best decision on the floor,” he explained. “Before, it was about me wanting to close the game — wanting to take that last shot and be closer. Now, it’s about just getting the best shot on the floor.”

“Find the best play on the floor every single time down,” he said of his thinking in late-game situations. “I’m trying to make the best decision for the team every time down the floor.”

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