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NBA Preview: Pelicans seek good fortune against Suns

Brandon Ingram, Devonte’ Graham and Garrett Temple are all questionable to play

Phoenix Suns v New Orleans Pelicans Photo by Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE via Getty Images

It’s difficult to imagine a tougher start to a season as important as this one for the New Orleans Pelicans and there’s no relief on the horizon. The schedule is about to turn more difficult and the injury list is quickly becoming public enemy No. 1.

Zion Williamson is going to miss at least the next 2-3 weeks as his rehabilitation carries on from offseason right foot surgery. While progress is being made per Willie Green — “He’s cutting. He’s doing explosive work. He’s running. He’s getting closer and closer.” — Zion remains unable to help steer the Pelicans out of their tailspin.

Potentially joining Williamson on the sidelines, Devonte’ Graham (left adductor tightness) and Brandon Ingram (right hip contusion), as well as Garrett Temple (left ankle sprain), were all listed as questionable on Monday’s injury report.

The Pelicans could be kicking off a four-game road trip through the Western Conference, beginning tonight in Phoenix against the Suns, without three key starters and a 1-6 record in tow.

One can’t sugarcoat it, things are looking awfully bleak. So much so, the start of the 2019-20 campaign could soon be given a run for its money.

In Jrue Holiday’s final season in New Orleans, the Pelicans started out of the gates with a lone victory in the first eight games. Soon thereafter, the team lost 13 consecutive games, setting a new franchise low for ineptitude.

Will Zion be forced to watch his team sputter to a 6-22 record for the second time in three seasons? It’s frightening to consider, but the possibility is very clearly sitting on the table.

If Ingram and Graham sit, Jonas Valanciunas (19.4 PPG) and Nickeil Alexander-Walker (14.1 PPG) will be the only double digit scorers available. The next highest point-getters on the list are Josh Hart (9.0) and Jaxson Hayes (6.1 PPG). For a team that’s struggled a lot offensively, that’s not a good omen.

The Suns, meanwhile, haven’t registered a missed game from a starting lineup that made it to the 2021 NBA Finals. Interestingly though, they’re currently under .500, dropping games to the Kings, Trail Blazers and Nuggets.

Whether their slow start is something akin to a hangover from last summer’s great run, Phoenix’s offense and defense have not been good, ranking in the bottom third of the league. Their net rating looks awfully similar to the Pelicans. (-6.0 vs -6.4).

The Suns are dead last in made three-pointers and they’ve been awful at converting free throws too. Devin Booker can’t hit a three, Deandre Ayton is uncharacteristically cold at the charity stripe, and Cameron Payne has forgotten how to put the basketball through the hoop from anywhere.

As longtime supports know, obviously the odds are good that Phoenix will find their stride versus New Orleans. How long can a talented team led by Chris Paul stay down after all? However, in the event it’s opposite day, the Pelicans could have an opportunity to do the improbable. But they’ll have to seize it.

Having some combination of at least one of Graham/Ingram in the lineup, not beating themselves on the floor and sprinkling in hot perimeter shooting would go a long way in shaking the feeling that it’s 2019 again. Here’s to some good fortune cause the start of that campaign was nearly unbearable.

Who: New Orleans Pelicans (1-6) at Phoenix Suns (2-3)

When: November 2, 2021, 9:00 pm

Where to watch: TNT

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 @OlehKosel.