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Pelicans look to ride Zion, Ingram to another victory over Cavaliers

Susceptible opponents aren’t so beatable for New Orleans

Cleveland Cavaliers v New Orleans Pelicans Photo by Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE via Getty Images

With Friday’s 101-94 victory over the 76ers, the Pelicans once again proved they can beat the highest caliber of opponent. Among the current eight best records in the Association, they have registered a win over seven of them.

Only one other team can make the same claim and incidentally they’re the lone squad missing from New Orleans’ resume: the Brooklyn Nets.

The Pelicans are loaded with potential and we’ve bore witness to this common thought against the NBA elite. Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram are two of the most impactful players around despite their youthful ages, and the duo is surrounded by other developing talent that’s shown more than just glimpses. The problem, though, their combined lack of experience still leads to a lot of disappointment.

The Pelicans have been swept by the Timberwolves and pre-Nikola Vucevic Bulls, and they’ve dropped games to four rebuilding teams: the Rockets, Thunder, Pistons and Magic. So the opponent later today makes me nervous.

The Cavaliers are a very below average team. Since February 1st, the Cavs have a winning percentage of just over 30%. That’s bottom-four territory.

On the season, no team is averaging less points per game than the Cavaliers and they’re one of the worst in making threes and free throws. Rebounding is a significant issue. While they force a good share of turnovers, the defense isn’t good and they usually wind up making more miscues on offense themselves.

Only OKC has a worse net rating to date than Cleveland.

While the Cavaliers had beaten the Spurs and Thunder this past week, they were blasted by a Raptors team last night that was missing Kyle Lowry, Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet. At halftime, Cleveland was trailing 87-54. It was wild watching how easily Gary Trent Jr. and OG Anunoby were scoring the basketball in the first half.

NBA: Cleveland Cavaliers at Denver Nuggets Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

A core of Collin Sexton, Darius Garland, Isaac Okoro and Jarrett Allen is Cleveland’s future, though, and it appears a solid foundation. Larry Nance Jr., Taurean Prince and Cedi Osman might be retained long term, too. The Pelicans, however, should devour these fledgling Cavs on Sunday.

New Orleans has already knocked off Cleveland once this season. In that contest last month, Brandon Ingram scored 28 points on 11 of 14 shooting and Zion Williamson added 23.

It pains me to say this, but it’s not a given the Pelicans notch another victory. Those who follow this team closely understand my apprehension.

The Pelicans are 8-11 against teams in the bottom 14. They have a better winning percentage against the top 16 (15-18) — and that figure is even higher against the top 10 (10-10).

New Orleans cannot keep playing down to the level of competition. The multiple highs demand this team keeps playing past the regular season. Cleveland is promising, but they’re still bait.

Twenty games are left on the schedule and the Warriors and Spurs are begging for someone from the rear to overtake them in the standings.

Please comply, Pelicans.

Who: New Orleans Pelicans (23-29) at Cleveland Cavaliers (19-33)

When: April 11, 6:00 p.m. Central

Where to watch: Bally Sports NOLA

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.