Silver lining as bad luck runs deep and excuses run low for Pelicans
The power of positive thinking is a good thing.
Life is short and life is hard.
It is seldom, if ever going to be easy.
The NBA season is long and it is hard.
Of course, now, it is relatively short, with only 29 games remaining for the New Orleans Pelicans.
Once sitting on top of the Western Conference, the toast of the town and of the country for a fleeting period of time, the Pelicans now find themselves clinging to a tie for the final play-in spot in the conference, with a losing record for the first time this season at 26-27.
Just over a month ago, the Pelicans reached a high-water mark of 23-12 with a home win over Philadelphia to cap a five-game win streak.
Zion Williamson played that night and did he play!
Williamson scored 36 points.
Since then, New Orleans is 3-14.
Since then, Williamson played in the next two games, both losses, before getting hurt. He has not played since.
Since then, New Orleans is 3-12.
Now, New Orleans has lost 10 straight games after dropping a 111-106 decision at Dallas Thursday night.
To the credit of the Pelicans, they fought hard to fight back from a 31-point deficit to cut that deficit to four points late but it was too little, too late.
Of course, the primary reason New Orleans fought back was the Mavericks losing their superstar, Luke Doncic, to a heel injury in the third quarter.
Doncic scored 31 points with eight rebounds and four assists in just 23 minutes, totally controlling the game and dominating the Pelicans, who have no one who can effectively guard him. Of course, virtually the entire league has the same issue with Doncic.
When Doncic was hurt with 7:14 to play in the third quarter, Dallas was up 81-54.
Without Doncic, the Mavericks are simply not good and the Pelicans exposed it.
In a season where the Pelicans simply cannot catch a break, the team did not arrive in Dallas until game day after bad weather kept the team in Denver until Thursday.
New Orleans came out and played like a team as frigid as snow, getting destroyed in the first half.
That simply cannot happen, particularly against a team you are virtually even with in the standings and a team that you have more talent than.
The silver lining is that Brandon Ingram looked like himself for the first time since returning from injury, scoring 26 points with nine rebounds, seven assists and a block. Ingram had not played very well in his first three games since returning from his lingering, some would say mysterious toe injury which caused him to miss 30 straight games.
Also part of that silver lining is that by all accounts, Williamson is very close to returning, perhaps by next week.
How long will it take Williamson to return to the top form he was displaying prior to his hamstring injury?
How long will it be before Ingram and Williamson miss more games?
Can they stay healthy?
Can they play games together?
Williamson missed 48 of 72 games in his rookie season of 2019-20.
Williamson missed 11 of 72 games in 2020-21.
Williamson missed all 82 games, as well as all playoff games in the 2021-22 season.
Williamson has missed 24 of the 53 games this season.
Ingram missed 10 games in 2019-20.
Ingram missed 11 games in 2020-21.
Ingram missed 27 games in 2021-22.
Ingram has missed 36 of 55 games this season.
These are your marquee, elite players whom the organization has invested in.
There is no doubting the superior abilities of Williamson and Ingram.
By all accounts, they are good persons, to go along with being outstanding players.
Ultimately, players must be available enough to have a significant impact.
That has simply not been the case with either of the New Orleans stars.
Suddenly, the euphoria of being a genuine contender with a dynamic young coach has seen a cloud emerge over the coach and his talented but frail team.
We have opined that Kira Lewis Jr. should get an opportunity in the rotation, based on what he has shown in limited time.
Lewis got that time Thursday night and it did not look good, scoring just two points on 1 of 6 shooting.
Still, Lewis merits a longer look with his quickness, speed and ability to create.
Herb Jones, who has missed 19 games this season, has returned and is playing solidly.
Jonas Valanciunas answers the call every night.
CJ McCollum remains the consummate pro and he has done his best to carry the team.
Trey Murphy, Jose Alvarado, Naji Marshall and Larry Nance, who has missed 12 games, have performed admirably. Willy Hernangomez, Devonta Graham and Jaxson Hayes provide occasional lifts.
While the Pelicans have depth, even with Dyson Daniels still out, having played in just 39 games, that depth is provided by role players.
No one can deny the bad luck the Pelicans have dealt with this season with so many key injuries. That refrain may sound familiar to New Orleans Saints fans.
The stars are Williamson, Ingram and McCollum. The best teams have stars and their stars play most often and play at a high level.
Two of those stars are back now and the losses continue to mount.
The third is poised to return.
Can they play at a high level for an extended period of time?
Will that stop the bleeding?
For what was once a potentially special season which remained promising and is now a huge question mark, the answer cannot come fast enough for the Pelicans to turn the silver lining into gold, avoiding falling deeper into the black hole of losing they are currently mired in.
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Born and raised in the New Orleans area, CCSE CEO Ken Trahan has been a sports media fixture in the community for nearly four decades. Ken started NewOrleans.com/Sports with Bill Hammack and Don Jones in 2008. In 2011, the site became SportsNOLA.com. On August 1, 2017, Ken helped launch CrescentCitySports.com. Having accumulated national awards/recognition (National Sports Media Association, National Football…