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Pelicans seek to salvage road trip with victory over Nuggets

Zion, Hayes developing right in front of our eyes, but not resulting in wins; odds good for a Jokic triple-double

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Denver Nuggets Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Can anybody figure out the Pelicans?

Streaking Nuggets Welcome Pelican’ts for Sunday Must-See Matinee

Housing two young All Stars, one of which is a franchise cornerstone growing his skills literally every time he plays, this collection of players is not winning enough games.

Sitting at 17-24 in 11th place, New Orleans has plenty of legit, minutes-earning players on the roster, but is mixing up into a soup of tuna, tumeric, whiskey, and legos. After all, the G-League OKC Thunder have the same record.

(Side note: stop asking if we can package picks and players together to get Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. That will NEVER, I repeat, NEVER happen.)

Denver High on Wins

Meanwhile, the Denver Nuggets (25-16) are pulling things together after a rough start — they’ve won 8 of 9 and are currently battling for homecourt in the Western Conference, with Nikola Jokic (my personal MVP favorite), Jamal Murray, and Michael Porter, Jr. holding it down. Supporting guys like Facundo Campazzo and Will Barton have been good lately, too.

Jokic is averaging 27.0 points, 11.2 rebounds and 8.6 assists per game and will absolutely wow you with touch passes and shot making. His movements are efficient and smart, and the 26-year-old is further establishing himself as one of the stars of this generation.

Watch Porter, in particular, as he’s been developing into the true 3rd scoring option, while also contributing as a rebounder. The guy can absolutely elevate — I look forward to guys like Zion and Josh Hart battling in mid-air for possession. He’s averaging 20 points and 9.7 rebounds per game since February 27, with a 73.9 TrueShooting% thanks to shooting 49% from 3. The elevation on his jumpshot is another reason he’s been watched as an NBA prospect for years. Does anyone just feel more like an NBA player in the whole league?

Pelicans: Too Young To Win, Too Good To Tank

The Nuggets are better than the Pelicans, period. But, hey, Nola has won their fair share of unexpected games.

Make no doubt about it: Zion Williamson is getting better every night and appointment viewing for any NBA fan. Brandon Ingram, still just 23, was an All Star last year, and Lonzo Ball, also 23, is in the midst of his best time as a pro. Generally, outside of the KD-Russ-Harden threesome, young guys do not win games. Let me tell you: Lonzo Ball ain’t James Harden.

Zion: 25.6ppg, 7.0rpg, 3.5apg. He’s heavily increasing usage, particularly as a ball-handler, and remains the most exciting individual player in the NBA. But, the Pelicans are 6-12 in the last 18 games.

I’m expecting a Nuggets win, but the game should be a raucous, high-flying affair.

Don’t Axe Jaxson

Perhaps one of the mostly heavily critiqued young guys in recent years, Jaxson Hayes may be turning it around ... like, right now.

Check the guy’s game log page and you’ll see plenty of white space — he has collected 11 DNP-CDs in big chunks this year. But since March 3, Hayes has been putting it together (at least offensively). He’s got tremendous agility and light feet, better hands, and much better court awareness. This added on to his ridiculous hops has resulted in EVEN MORE DUNKS, including the death of Reggie Jackson (1990-2021).

Jaxson’s TS%, which accounts for free throws, has gotten to 3rd best in the league at 75.0%. Since March 3, he’s been at a ridiculous 89.6%. That, along with just 1 turnover in that time (I know, I know, he’s not exactly a ball-handler), has helped make him one of the bright spots in recent Pelicans games. He’s a team-best +11.1 in that time.

One wonders if he’ll see any time at all against Nikola Jokic. But hey, you gotta test yourself against the best.

I personally like his effort and attitude, stuff that may help him further develop in the next couple seasons. Just take it easy folks, he’s 20 years old.

Geaux Pels!


Who: New Orleans Pelicans (17-24) @ Denver Nuggets (25-16)

When: Sunday, March 21, 2:00 p.m.

Where to Watch: Fox 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 @Trabeta.