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NBA Preview: New Orleans Pelicans may be without Zion Williamson but plenty of horses remain for season opener with Toronto Raptors

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Jrue, Lonzo, B.I. and crew should be ready and eager to prove mettle.

New Orleans Pelicans v Toronto Raptors Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

The first game on the 2019-20 NBA schedule is upon us and it’ll pit our hometown New Orleans Pelicans against the World Champion Toronto Raptors. You can catch the action on TNT starting at 7:00 p.m. Central, but if you’re interested, there will be plenty of pre-game material for your viewing pleasure beginning at 5:30 p.m.

While the excitement over the dawn of a new season was muted considerably yesterday with the news of Zion Williamson possibly missing up to two months, the first overall pick of the 2019 NBA Draft was not expected to carry the torch on day one.

Are we disappointed that we won’t see the young phenom for what’s expect to be a period of six to eight weeks? You betcha. Has all hope for a good and fun season gone down the drain? No, I really don’t believe that.

Zion substantially elevated expectation levels in preseason through his stupendous play, but the depth on the Pelicans roster is real as it propelled New Orleans to a 5-0 exhibition record.

  • Jrue Holiday is one of the top players in the league and could be an MVP candidate.
  • Brandon Ingram is primed for a breakout season.
  • Lonzo Ball will be the talented but finally unencumbered maestro of the offense.
  • JJ Redick’s shooting prowess will singlehandedly stretch opposing defenses.
  • Derrick Favors will anchor the paint, an area he patrolled extremely well for the Utah Jazz.
  • Then there’s the firepower sitting on the bench, who proved throughout preseason that they’re explosive, damn good and ready to contribute meaningful minutes. Nickeil Alexander-Walker, E’Twaun Moore, Josh Hart, Frank Jackson, Nicolo Melli, Kenrich Williams and Jahlil Okafor, name me five better groups of reserves around the league — and remember that they should have Redick among them too.

David Griffin has blessed Alvin Gentry with the right cogs for his system. We should continue to see the Pelicans play fast, together and put up a lot of points on the scoreboard. And if the preseason doesn’t prove to be an aberration, the team’s perimeter shooting might actually be a strength on the year, not a weakness.

Sitting on the opposite end of the floor, the Toronto Raptors will receive their championship rings and unveil a banner marking their monumental achievement before tip-off. Then they’ll attempt to defend their crown, but they’ll be missing one crucial component: Kawhi Leonard, who left for the Los Angeles Clippers in the offseason.

However, before you try and write them off, did you know that the Raptors managed to post a 17-5 record in the contests Kawhi missed last season? That’s pretty impressive and rather telling, so don’t take their superstar-less roster for granted. They still have Pascal Siakam, Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka, Norman Powell and OG Anunoby.

Expect for Toronto’s experienced group to try and counter New Orleans attack with an opportunistic defense. Gentry wants to run at the fastest pace possible, but the Raptors are no slouches. They finished 4th in fast break points and 13th in fast break points allowed last season. We witnessed the same pattern this preseason, with Toronto finishing first in fast break points and 8th in fast break points allowed.

This will likely be the key to the game: whoever best controls the transition game. If New Orleans can keep turnovers and defensive breakdowns to a minimum, expect for them to have a really good chance to steal the victory — even without Zion.

Geaux Pels!

Where To Watch/Listen

What: New Orleans Pelicans (0-0) at Toronto Raptors (0-0)

Where: Scotiabank Arena

When: Tuesday, October 22, 2019. 7:00 PM CDT

How: TNT