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NBA Preview: Pelicans hope to show lessons learned are taking hold against Jazz again

The defense is really beginning to shine

New Orleans Pelicans v Utah Jazz Photo by Chris Gardner/Getty Images

The New Orleans Pelicans are in the midst of their first win streak of the season and absolutely no one saw this coming. Certainly not after this past Monday’s 110-96 loss to the Timberwolves, which came on the heels of a 111-94 defeat to the Pacers.

The feeling among viewers after those two L’s was that the sky was falling. The Pelicans were smoked and their usually reliable competitive fire was largely missing. Willie Green was frustrated about the performances. So, too, the players. No one tried to hide it.

That’s what makes this sudden turnaround sandwiched around Thanksgiving Day so remarkable.

Nearly all onlookers had left the team for dead, claiming that only a Zion Williamson return might be able to save the day. Instead, the Pelicans posted their most dominant victory on the schedule, a 127-102 shellacking of the Wizards at home, and then their first win of the season in clutch minutes against the Jazz in Utah.

33 assists vs 11 turnovers on Wednesday and then 27 assists vs 14 turnovers last night. Before these couple of games, the Pelicans were averaging 22.7 assists against 15.9 turnovers per contest.

The last few days have been a delight because that represents one hell of a positive response by the team, against strong competition no less. Willie Green described why it’s so important for the Pelicans to overcome recent adversity in last night’s postgame session with media.

“Going through adversity is what our city is accustomed to — resilient group of people in New Orleans. We want a team that does the same thing. So when we face adversity, we just get up the next day and we keep fighting. We continue to stay positive and we just build from here. I’m proud of guys representing our community, representing our city the right way.”

Two regular season wins do not guarantee a trip to the playoffs, but there’s something going on here. Underneath the hood of this current 5-16 overall record, one can logically believe that the lopsided losses to the Pacers and Timberwolves were probably aberrations. That’s not who they are according to the stats.

The best way to view the ongoing improvements is through the lens of Brandon Ingram’s availability in games: before he sustained a right hip contusion, while he sat out, and after returning from injury.

W/L Record Offensive Rating Defensive Rating Net Rating Opponent PPG
Pre-injury Ingram 1-5 101.5 (24) 107.9 (19) -6.4 (25) 109.0 (18)
Ingram's absence 0-7 103.4 (23) 117.8 (29) -14.4 (30) 115.6 (28)
Ingram's return 4-4 105.1 (21) 105.0 (11) +0.1 (15) 102.5 (9)

The offense hasn’t taken off yet, but it is incrementally improving. However, on the defensive side of the ball, things are fast coming together, especially when examining opponent points per game averages.

The high effort levels are beginning to produce desired results. Four wins in the last eight games. The first clutch-time victory of the season.

Can Herb Jones force Donovan Mitchell into another inefficient game? Can Willy Hernangomez go toe to toe with Rudy Gobert once more? Can the Pelicans overcome Utah’s home court advantage on the second night of a back-to-back against the Jazz? Can they hold one of the best teams in the Western Conference to under 100 points again?

The fact that no one can honestly say they know the answers to these questions is telling. Regardless of tonight’s outcome though, I truly believe these Pelicans are starting to make the city of New Orleans proud of their play.

That’s an important first step which shouldn’t be overlooked.

Who: New Orleans Pelicans (5-16) at Utah Jazz (12-7)

When: November 27, 2021, 8:00 pm

Where to watch: Bally Sports New Orleans, League Pass

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.