Pelicans getting healthier ahead of crucial homestand
METAIRIE – The end of the New Orleans Pelicans’ practice was unusually crowded Wednesday afternoon.
After the team period was completed, Larry Nance Jr. got in some extra work on one court. On the opposite end Brandon Ingram was smiling and joking as he worked one on one with player development coach Corey Brewer.
On the far court Zion Williamson practiced jumpers under the watchful eye of assistant coach Teresa Weatherspoon, before taking on Brewer in his own one-on-one work.
The three injured players are at different stages of potentially returning, but the mood was upbeat across the board as the team prepares to start a crucial stretch of three home games in four days when they face the Chicago Bulls on Thursday.
Nance is probable for Thursday’s game, Ingram is doubtful and it remains uncertain whether Williamson will play this season, although he is progressing from foot surgery.
“We’ve dealt with a lot of injuries this year,” head coach Willie Green said. “It’s good to start seeing guys get healthy, especially at this time of year.”
Nance had arthroscopic knee surgery shortly after being acquired from Portland in the trade that brought CJ McCollum last month. He averaged 6.9 points and 5.6 rebounds and shot 51.5 percent from the floor with the Trail Blazers, but hasn’t played since January 5.
“I’ve been staying locked in, trying to stay fresh mentally,” Nance said. “I feel great, but there’s going to be some rust to shake off.”
Nance will provide depth in a variety of ways in the New Orleans frontcourt.
“He’s a prime-time player,” Green said of Nance. “He rebounds the ball, he’s athletic, he can guard multiple positions. He adds a ton of value to our squad and what we want to do.”
Ingram has missed 22 games this season, including the last eight because of a strained right hamstring. He also came down with a non-COVID illness that prevented him from making the road trip that featured wins against San Antonio (on Friday) and Atlanta (Sunday) and a loss against Charlotte (Monday).
Though Ingram is listed as doubtful for Thursday, he moved freely in his work with Brewer and looked like someone very close to returning. The Spurs comes to town Saturday followed by the Lakers on Sunday.
New Orleans is trying to hold off the Spurs and the Blazers, as well as catch the Lakers, in the tightly bunched battled for the last two play-in spots in the Western Conference.
“This is a team that’s playing for something,” Nance said, “and I’m very excited to be a part of it.”
The Bulls (42-29) were leading the Eastern Conference not too long ago, but they have struggled of late and slid to fifth as former Pelicans guard Lonzo Ball has been sidelined since having a knee scoped in January.
Chicago has lost four of its last five games. After losing three straight by an average of 17 points, it got a 113-99 home victory against Toronto on Monday before losing at Milwaukee 126-98, trailing by as many as 35 points, Tuesday night.
The Bulls, who are a combined 0-16 against the top three teams in each conference, have lost seven of their last eight road games and are 16-20 away from home for the season. Thursday’s game in the second game of a five-game road trip.
The Pelicans (30-42), who lost to the Bulls 128-112 on October 22 in Chicago, strengthened their position by blowing out the Spurs before edging the Hawks and losing by three points to the Hornets.
“Those are playoff-type games,” Green said. “(The last two) came down to the last three or four minutes and it’s about our ability to execute on both ends of the floor. One game we did it, one game not so much. We’ll have some more opportunities here at home coming up.”
The Pelicans’ hope of having Ingram, McCollum and Williamson all available for the first time might not come until next season, but they still have an opportunity to play beyond this regular season.
“(This experience) is extremely important,” Green said. “It’s how you build momentum. We still have 10 games left to play, hopefully more.
“We’ve got some good teams coming in so it’s extremely important for us to take every game seriously, every possession, every opportunity because that’s what it is – an opportunity for us to control our own destiny.”
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Les East is a nationally renowned freelance journalist. The New Orleans area native’s blog on SportsNOLA.com was named “Best Sports Blog” in 2016 by the Press Club of New Orleans. For 2013 he was named top sports columnist in the United States by the Society of Professional Journalists. He has since become a valued contributor for CCS. The Jesuit High…