To the immense joy of fans, the New Orleans Pelicans are streaking happily in December.
After beating the Orlando Magic by a final score of 110-104 Thursday evening, the Pelicans have won four consecutive games for the first time in close to a year (2/3/21 - 2/9/21).
In probably bigger news, three of those victories have come in clutch time. New Orleans had registered only a single win in 10 tries prior to this current stretch when the score was five points or less in the last five minutes of regulation.
It’s not hard to notice that players are getting more and more comfortable in their roles, Willie Green has discovered a starting lineup and rotation that’s paying dividends more often than not, and there now appears to be a healthy amount of confidence that is allowing the team to thrive rather than suffocate in key moments.
This latest improvement when lights are brightest honestly represents another step forward for a team that entered the season with high hopes but crashed immediately out of the gates. Although there remains a long road ahead, New Orleans has done a nice job of continuing to dig themselves out of a deep hole ever since.
Nine wins in the last 14 games is no small feat for a team that’s been without their best player in Zion Williamson and it’s put New Orleans among some elite company. Only the Suns, Cavaliers, Warriors, Grizzlies, Bucks and Jazz have registered more victories since November 24.
In similar fashion to the victory over the Trail Blazers a few days ago, a three-headed attack led the Pelicans against the Magic.
Brandon Ingram supplied the star power with a line of 31 points, six rebounds and four assists. He was solid throughout, from drawing a charge in the opening minute to making a midrange jumper with 1:13 left to put the Pelicans up two possessions for good; however, he was ultra special in the middle — when New Orleans needed him most.
From the 7:37 mark of the second quarter to 2:58 remaining in the third, Ingram tallied 24 points on 9-16 shooting. The rest of the New Orleans roster combined to make just 4 of 18 field goals during this time frame.
Like I wrote, star power. Ingram’s got it and we’ve witnessed plenty of evidence since he found his legs after a hip injury robbed him of seven games.
To be fair, though, Josh Hart has been just as instrumental to the cause for the Pelicans’ turnaround. A line of 22 points, five rebounds, five assists and four 3s tonight doesn’t elicit utter amazement from regular viewers anymore.
It’s time to start speaking Josh Hart into the leagues Most Improved Player conversation….IJS!! ♂️— Antonio Daniels (@adaniels33) December 24, 2021
“Josh hit a few big 3s down the stretch,” Green said in postgame. “Timely, and we needed them. They started to blitz Brandon and I thought he did a great job of just getting off the ball and making the simple play. Josh was the recipient of the blitz, hit the middle, hit him, and he knocked down some big shots for us.”
Antonio Daniels is right. Hart’s improvement has been so great that it’s high time the five-year veteran starts receiving widespread recognition for the best campaign of his career.
Another candidate deserving of major fanfare has been Devonte’ Graham, who finished with 20 points, five rebounds, six assists and five 3s.
This marks the 7th time in 10 games this month that Graham has scored in double digits. He’s also made 40.4% of his near 10 3-point attempts per game in December. That production is exactly what New Orleans hoped they were getting when they traded for the point guard this past offseason.
Pelicans’ reserves also deserve a hat tip. They outscored the Magic’s bench 26-17 and two much-maligned veteran guards supplied most of the firepower.
Garrett Temple knocked down several important jumpers when Orlando was in the midst of a dominant run, and Tomas Satoransky enjoyed his best game in a New Orleans uniform: nine points, three assists and one steal.
Although the Pelicans led 32-17 at the end of the first quarter, the Magic never quit, fighting hard to the conclusion in their comeback bid. Four Orlando starters tallied at least 17 points and Franz Wagner (20 points, five rebounds) and Cole Anthony (22 points, 11 assists) are two reasons why Magic fans can be hopeful about the future.
Up next, the Pelicans have the next few days off to enjoy the holiday break with family and friends before facing the Thunder in OKC on December 26.
Merry Christmas, everyone!