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NBA Preview: Beating Lonzo’s Bulls would bring smiles to Pelicans fans

Te’ vs Zo, who you got?

NBA: Preseason-New Orleans Pelicans at Chicago Bulls Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

The Pelicans need a win.

Not when Zion comes back, not before the All-Star break, not in 2023. Like, Friday. They need to win FRIDAY.

Sure, every team wants an early-season W to help build goodwill amongst the players, coaches, and fans. But the Pels?

New Orleans Pelicans portraits

Well, they’re hoping to gloss over the huge missing Z at power forward, an absence that is at once unexpected — an injury announced abruptly just a couple weeks ago — and also totally foreseen, as it continues years of worrisome body problems, including with Zion himself two years ago; and Anthony Davis, Jrue Holiday, Demarcus Cousins, Eric Gordon, Ryan Anderson and too many others to count.

Pels fans both in digital spaces and in the safety of their own home yelled and convulsed and worried aloud. And why wouldn’t they? More recent seasons have included misery than those with tremendous organizational happiness. Just go year by year.

So here we are.

After a sloggy, blowout 117-97 loss to the Philadelpha 76ers to start the season on Wednesday, Nola will take to the road headed for Chicago, a team trending up after an active off-season and ugly 94-88 win at Detroit to start 1-0. Previous to Wednesday, they hadn’t been over .500 since 2017. There’s a new era starting in Chicago. No more three alphas or weird patronizing attitudes from the coach, they’re a real team now!

You’ll recognize at least one Bull: former Pellie Lonzo Ball has taken over the point guard spot. Ball, now on his third team, will hope to continue his improvement as a shooter and provide slithery defense and athleticism. Fully healthy, the Bulls sport quite a few big names in their starting 5. Ball is joined by Olympic gold medalist Zach Lavine (a good bet for the NBA scoring title); four-time NBA All Star DeMar DeRozan comes over from San Antonio and continues his shift towards an assist-heavy midrange and post presence; skilled offensive big Nikola Vucevic, a two-time All Star who came in a surprising trade last season from Orlando; and defensive hopeful Pat Williams, a sixth man in college taken 4th overall in 2020. Lavine is the most explosive and most talented of the bunch and his hyperefficient night is really what earned the win against the Pistons, scoring 34 points on 17 shots.

And with shot-happy benchman Coby White injured, the Bulls will show off other reserve newbies, including gutsy gamer Alex Caruso. In their season opener, rookie Ayo Dosunmu played important minutes with four other starters and near the end of the game, providing defense, quickness, and speed — but as of now, he’s not a respected outside shooter. Troy Brown Jr., Javonte Green, and Alize Johnson are “create a player” types with limited skills from NBA2K. Make no doubt about it: the Bulls will rely on their stars to win games.

Common theories about this year’s Bulls include “all offense, no defense,” or “there’s only one ball for Lavine/Ball/DeRozan/Vucevic,” or “where’s the bench shooting.” But again, these are just simple basketball questions. This is a team that seemed aimless for, well, YEARS, and with a new front office and coach at the helm, Chicago is no longer a laughingstock like, say, the Pe!!#@ns. They seem ready to avoid long losing streaks and steady performances, assuming general health.

Philadelphia 76ers v New Orleans Pelicans Photo by Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE via Getty Images

The Pelican future, particularly the near-term, is very up in the air as Zion continues to wear suits. Brandon Ingram again took on the scoring load (25 points, seven rebounds, six assists) vs. PHI and was joined by Nickeil Alexander-Walker (23 points) in the over-20 club. NAW has long been a favorite of this site and the Nola fanbase; now is not the time to celebrate his earning minutes, now he’s gotta help produce wins. They’re gonna be playing young guys, and generally, young guys don’t win. Veterans Tomas Satoransky and Garrett Temple aren’t exactly the game-changing subs to shift a game.

Um, when’s Zion coming back? Let’s hope throughout the game against Chicago, that question won’t be at the forefront of all minds in New Orleans.

Who: New Orleans Pelicans (0-1) at Chicago Bulls (1-0)

When: October 22, 7:00 p.m. Central

Where to watch: Bally Sports New Orleans

Where to listen: ESPN 100.3 FM

For more Pelicans talk, subscribe to The Bird Calls podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow this author on Twitter at @trabeta.