Hold onto your butts. The offseason is a thing of the past as the New Orleans Pelicans seek to build off an impressive 48-win campaign, culminating with a 4-0 sweep of the Portland Trail Blazers in the first round. The first obstacle: the Chicago Bulls, in the first exhibition game of the 2018-19 season!
The roster may look a little different from one year ago with the absences of Rajon Rondo and DeMarcus Cousins, but the two most important cogs in Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday remain. Winners of numerous NBA awards a few months ago, the duo should exude some swagger, but to give a helping hand, expect plenty of assistance from a restocked cupboard featuring Julius Randle, Elfrid Payton, Jahlil Okafor, Solomon Hill, and Pels’ Ferrari, Frank Jackson. Fans will also get their third look at 34-year-old former Hornet/Pelican, Jarrett Jack, as well as summer league standout, Trevon Bluiett.
What should make these Pelicans different from previous years is a collectively puffed chest. Okafor and Payton are seeking to re-establish themselves in the league. Randle wants more respect. Holiday sees 2018 as just the first of many Defensive All-NBA stops. And Davis firmly believes he is the best player in the world — and no one can tell him any different.
Solomon Hill said last year’s pace and space is only the beginning:
“Everybody has to play what works for them. If we played any other style of basketball, that wouldn’t fit who we are. That wouldn’t fit our coach and the system we want to implement. We found success being the fastest team in the NBA, and I think our goal is now if we had to match up with last year’s team, we would have to be faster than that team.”
Julius Randle has made his aspirations for the 2018-19 Pelicans well known:
“I am not settling for anything else other than to compete for a championship. I want to compete for a championship. I’m saying, ‘Why not?’ We are talented from top to bottom. You saw what those guys did last year in the playoffs. I feel like I can add to that.”
But before the Pelicans can storm through the gates against the Houston Rockets on October 17th, they’ll first have to dust off the offseason cobwebs against a preseason slate beginning in Chicago.
The Bulls have their own aspirations of pushing the pace with newly added Jabari Parker from the Milwaukee Bucks. An ill-fit at small forward, Parker could partner with Lauri Markkanen to form a dangerous 4-5 punch. Next to them will stand Kris Dunn, Zach Lavine, and Justin Holiday, who will all look to be aggressive early and attack relentlessly. Lavine offensively, Dunn defensively, and Holiday is well suited to contribute on both ends having averaged 17 and 8 in two games against the Pelicans last season.
The Pelicans will miss Markkanen on this particular night, however, as he will be withheld due to a high-grade lateral elbow sprain and be sidelined for 6-8 weeks sustained in training camp. Eventually though, he will be a player to watch come the games that matter.
INJURY UPDATE: Lauri Markkanen sustained a right elbow injury in practice yesterday. He underwent an MRI today that showed a high grade lateral elbow sprain. Markkanen is estimated to be out six-to-eight weeks. pic.twitter.com/lwSdKvKIiS— Chicago Bulls (@chicagobulls) September 29, 2018
In his shoes will step former Hornet Robin Lopez, and he will be spelled by the Bulls seventh overall pick from the 2018 Draft, Wendell Carter Jr.
Former lottery selection Denzel Valentine will be held out as well due to a bum ankle and former Pelicans Omer Asik is out indefinitely with inflammatory arthritis, but the Pelicans depth will match up with former Thunder lottery selection Cam Payne, as well as 2018 22nd overall pick, Chandler Hutchinson, Bobby Portis, and Cristiano Felicio.
The aforementioned depth still has some spots open for the taking. Who will step up and claim it?
With Okafor and Jarrett Jack as probable to crack the 15-man regular season unit, the Pelicans have one spot remaining. Darius Morris, Troy Williams, Kenrich Williams, Garlon Green and newly signed Brandon McCoy will battle for that spot, and for the second Two-Way contract alongside Trevon Bluiett.
On the injury side, the Pelicans will likely be without Darius Miller, Nikola Mirotic and Alexis Ajinca, though Jahlil Okafor should be able to manage his malady.
#Pelicans injury report - 9.30.18 at CHI— Pelicans PR (@PelicansPR) September 29, 2018
Jahlil Okafor (Ingrown Toenail)
Nikola Mirotic (L Achilles Tendinosis)
Darius Miller (L biceps strain)
Alexis Ajinca (R Quad Strain)
So gear up Pelicans fans! The 2018-19 season is ready to be unveiled, and it promises to be a wild, fun ride.
For more from our team, check out our latest episode of ‘The Bird Calls,’ featuring Oleh Kosel, Kevin Barrios, and myself. Let’s Geaux Pels!
What: New Orleans Pelicans at Chicago Bulls
Where: United Center
When: Sunday, September 30, 2018, 6:00 p.m. Central
How: NBAtv, 99.5 FM WRNO