A little more than a month into the 2017-18 regular season, the New Orleans Pelicans are exceeding a lot of expectations around the league.
After notching two impressive wins over the Thunder and Spurs this week, the Pelicans are surging at a time when many teams predicted to finish ahead of them in the standings are dropping like flies. While New Orleans is 7-3 over their last ten games, the Clippers, Grizzlies and Jazz have combined to win just six games during the same span.
Injuries to Mike Conley, Rudy Gobert, Danilo Gallinari and Patrick Beverley have substantially hurt L.A., Memphis and Utah, but another anticipated playoff team may soon be joining the fallen — the Denver Nuggets.
Two days ago, it was announced Paul Millsap would undergo surgery on his left wrist, which could sideline him for the next three months. That could be a huge blow to a team who is 8.2 points per 100 possessions better with him on the court than off. Case in point, since Millsap went down, the Nuggets lost to the Lakers and then were crushed on Wednesday night by the Houston Rockets.
New Orleans fans are no strangers to heartbreak. During Head Coach Alvin Gentry’s short tenure, key personnel missing time at the start of the last two regular seasons instantly derailed legitimate postseason hopes. Teams that sit outside of the elite have proven it difficult over the years to overcome sidelined core players.
If you may recall, the Pelicans were 2:36 minutes away from beginning the season with just one win in their first five games. Missing Rajon Rondo and Solomon Hill from the starting lineup, a lack of depth behind Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins in the form of Alexis Ajinca and Omer Asik, and Tony Allen not being close to 100%, almost led to another disastrous team start. Fortunately, Boogie came up big in Sacramento and then a number of individuals and key plays aided New Orleans to keep their heads above water with a 6-6 record.
Now that Rondo and Allen have returned and the players are seemingly developing stronger chemistry on both sides of the ball, the Pelicans have posted their two best victories of the season in consecutive contests.
“I think we can be scary,” said Cousins after Wednesday’s win against the Spurs. “This is basically a brand-new team, a brand-new identity. Rajon came back what 3 games ago? We're getting him accustomed and we're doing it well.”
Better days may still yet be ahead on the horizon. #KnockOnWood