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Pelicans begin the season in the middle of the pack in NBA Power Rankings

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National writers not high, or low, on New Orleans after preseason.

NBA: Preseason-New Orleans Pelicans at Chicago Bulls Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

Another season is about to begin so that means the initial batch of NBA power rankings has been released for public consumption. Looking over the four rankings we’ve followed now for years, national writers are much higher on the New Orleans Pelicans going into this season than a year ago — Not terribly surprising considering DeMarcus Cousins gives Anthony Davis a legitimate All-Star running mate in the front court.

Before last season most rankings put the Pelicans in the bottom third of the league. This year the Pels are firmly in the middle of the pack, ranking between 12th (CBS Sports) and 17th (NBA.com), with both ESPN and Sports Illustrated pegging New Orleans 15th. In a league with equally competitive conferences this would put the Alvin Gentry-led crew solidly into the playoff picture.

About that.

In case you missed the offseason activity, the NBA does not feature anything resembling equally competitive conferences. New Orleans is 11th (NBA.com), 10th (ESPN), 9th (Sports Illustrated), and 6th (CBS Sports) in the Western Conference according to NBA Power Rankers. That’s what happens when four of 13 Eastern Conference All-Stars (Jimmy Butler, Paul George, Carmelo Anthony, and Paul Millsap) move West while just one Western Conference All-Star (Gordon Hayward) moves East.

The race for the final four playoff spots in the West is expected to be tight with as many as seven teams in legitimate contention. Some writers have the Minnesota Timberwolves in the fifth spot, cutting it down to six teams battling for three spots. New Orleans will have to beat out at least three of the Denver Nuggets, Los Angeles Clippers, Memphis Grizzlies, Portland Trailblazers, and Utah Jazz to keep playing on in April and May.

Personally I think it’s pretty close to a coin flip for those six teams. Injuries will be a deciding factor for at least a couple of them and the Pelicans are already hobbled with the loss of Solomon Hill until the All-Star break and Rajon Rondo for the first few weeks of the season. With some luck in rehabilitation and the coaching staff finding a way to work around Hill’s absence there’s still hope New Orleans can challenge for the playoffs.

NBA.com

This Week: 17

Well, the Pelicans are banged up again. Solomon Hill will miss (at least) most of the season with a hamstring tear and Rajon Rondo's hernia surgery (he's out at least the first three weeks) has moved Jrue Holiday back to point guard. Of course, DeMarcus Cousins, who led the team with 6.8 assists per 36 minutes in the preseason, gets to play point center whenever he gets a defensive rebound. Even without Rondo, Holiday was aggressive in looking for his shot, leading the team with 19.0 field goal attempts per 36 (though Anthony Davis' ridiculous free throw rate -- 34 FTA, 33 FGA -- needs to be taken into account there). The Pelicans' first game of the regular season is against the team that thumped them in their final game of the preseason.

ESPN

This Week: 15

The Pelicans have arguably the best power forward-center combo in the NBA. DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis are two of 18 players with career averages of at least 20 points and 10 rebounds per game in NBA history. The other 16 players are all Hall of Famers (minimum 200 games played).

Sports Illustrated

This Week: 15

It’s pretty easy to talk yourself into the Pels this season. They’ve got name-brand players like Rajon Rondo and Tony Allen (he counts, right?) coupled with a few stars. This is on you, Alvin Gentry. Help Boogie Cousins prosper.

CBS Sports

This Week: 12 (Dated September 26th)

I'm basically cycling through the Pelicans, Clippers, Jazz, Nuggets and Blazers, with a different team being the one I'm high on every week. It's the Pels' turn on the merry-go-round this week. DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis are just so good, Jrue Holiday is underrated, so is Rajon Rondo at this point, as is E'Twaun Moore, Tony Allen and Ian Clark. Call me crazy, but I think it's a good time to buy Pelican stock. (I will completely regret this decision within a month.)