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Pelicans must play to best of their ability, not down to level of competition, versus Bulls

If the playoffs are a goal, New Orleans needs to start performing better against the bottom half of the league

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New Orleans Pelicans v Chicago Bulls Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

According to the NBA Sagarin rankings, the Pelicans have seven wins against 11 losses versus the top 16 teams in the league. Thus, it’s probably a coin flip they beat the Chicago Bulls tonight — based on New Orleans’ 8-8 record against the bottom 14.

It’s no secret: The Pelicans have been maddeningly inconsistent this season. They’ve posted some potentially validating wins over surefire playoff teams but dropped more than a handful of games to subpar competition. They’ve seized the day in certain matchups, let victory slip from their grasp in others.

The only thing followers can be assured of is that a lot of points will be scored in every matchup, making gamblers who bet the over the happiest bunch around. To be a little more positive, though, there’s hope the Pelicans may be turning the page on their unpredictable nature.

Although New Orleans is 4-4 in their last eight games, they haven’t lost a game to the bottom half of the league during this stretch. Moreover, had the ball just bounced a little differently on a possession or two, they could easily be 6-2, with say wins over the Trail Blazers, Bucks and/or Spurs instead of last-minute defeats. Had the Pelicans not totally unraveled against the Suns in a 42-12 fourth quarter ... catch my drift?

Utah Jazz v New Orleans Pelicans Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

Brandon Ingram has been steady all season, Zion Williamson entered superstar territory in late January and now Lonzo Ball is consistently producing. Throw in the solid contributions of several role players, the Pelicans have the horses to emerge victorious any given night — provided the defense doesn’t cough up more points than the offense tallies.

Therein lies the biggest rub from game to game. If New Orleans can avoid giving up a season high or, gulp, a career best that winds up getting recorded in history, more wins than losses could start piling up on the plate.

The last time the Pelicans faced the Bulls, Zach LaVine scored a season-high 46 points. Coby White added 30 points, including a career-best eight three-pointers. The Chicago Bulls, as a team, established a new franchise-best mark for made threes with 25.

A similar type of performance cannot be allowed to repeat and the best way to accomplish that could be as simple as envisioning Utah in uniform every time New Orleans steps out onto the court.

“We play up to the level of competition,” Ingram said after Monday’s 129-124 win over the Jazz. “When they come in and we know the talent level and we know the name of the team, we have a sense of urgency coming in here, knowing a team is really good and we need to be locked in. Some days, Detroit and some of the other teams, maybe we don’t have the same sense of urgency that we need to have.”

The Pelicans understand they must play to the best of their ability. Coming on the heels of the last eight games and seemingly having diagnosed an important problem, New Orleans should be ready for the challenge that Chicago represents. But will the outcome result in a victory over the Bulls?

Your guess is as good as mine.

Who: New Orleans Pelicans (15-19) vs Chicago Bulls (15-18)

When: March 3, 7:00 p.m. Central

Where to watch: FSNOLA

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.