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NBA Preview: Pelicans Look for First Zion-Aided Win at Home Against Injured Denver Nuggets

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Young Stars Abound: Zion, Brandon Ingram, and... Michael Porter, Jr.?

San Antonio Spurs v New Orleans Pelicans Photo by Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE via Getty Images

The New Orleans Pelicans play the Denver Nuggets 7 p.m. Friday night at the Smoothie King Center in what should be Zion Williamson’s second career regular-season NBA game. The Nuggs are currently fourth in the West, but are interchangeable with the Jazz and Clippers in fighting for seeds 2-3-4. The Pelicans remain outside the playoff picture in 12th, and are now four games back of the Spurs for 8th.

Zion

To recap, Zion Williamson scored 22 points in his first game, including 17 in a row in the 4th quarter, and grabbed seven rebounds with five turnovers. The first three quarters saw extremely “conservative” play by the big man, many of those minutes coming with centers Derrick Favors or Jaxson Hayes. He opened the fourth quarter against Spurs center Jakob Poeltl and that’s when he went to work.

There’s plenty of concepts about his play to monitor, but certainly at the top of the list is: “who is he going to play with, and at what position?” Keep watching folks!

MPJ an MVP?

Let’s see if Michael Porter, Jr. plays after he missed the previous Nuggets game with last-minute back tightness. MPJ was one of the highest-rated high school players in the country just a few years ago, before sustaining injuries that kept him from our collective thoughts. Now, he’s getting acclimated to NBA games and putting his talent to action; his very first NBA game was against the Pelicans on Halloween. He has scored in double-figures in five straight contests and has two recent double-doubles. He had a career-high 25 about three weeks ago and then poured in 20 points, 14 rebounds and four assists less than a week ago.

Things are trending up for the wing, and the Nuggets seemed to have hit upon a supreme talent after drafting him 14th in the 2018 draft.

An Ingram-MPJ showdown sounds great, although Ingram is shooting just 35 percent in his last three games since the 49-point explosion against Utah; the Spurs first half on Wednesday a real dud, too. He also missed some key free throws and a number of other shots that needed to find net to keep the Pels in the game as it slipped away from them after Zion exited. Surely he’ll be fine.

Reading this piece in The Athletic immediately makes me think of the rehab process for MPJ and Zion:

It always comes back to Zion.

This Menagerie

When depth works in the NBA, it’s a beautiful thing to watch. Just reference this iteration of the Bucks, championship-level Spurs teams, last year’s Raptors, etc.

Other times, it seems like there’s too many good players to get quality minutes, and finding the right combination of players can be taxing and potentially cost games. Everyone is back now for Nola, including Zion, but also JJ Redick, Derrick Favors and Jrue Holiday. Sorting out the guard minutes (don’t forget about E’Twaun Moore!) may be difficult for the coaches.

Denver is stocked with incredible depth at most positions, too, but they played their last game without: Jamal Murray, Gary Harris, Paul Millsap, Mason Plumlee and MPJ.

Let’s see how short-handed they are for the Pels game.

See you Friday night and Geaux Zauxyon!

Geaux Pels!

Where To Watch/Listen

What: New Orleans Pelicans (17-28) vs Denver Nuggets (30-14)

Where: Smoothie King Center — New Orleans, LA

When: Friday, January 24, 2019 7:00 PM CST

How: FSNO