The New Orleans Pelicans have 14 games left on the schedule and tonight’s contest in Orlando represents just one of three remaining matchups against opponents expected to miss postseason action.
The Magic, if you may recall, traded away key components from last season’s playoff squad at the deadline in Nikola Vucevic, Aaron Gordon and Evan Fournier. Orlando has posted a 3-10 record since entering this full rebuild — including a 115-110 victory over New Orleans.
As most are aware, the Pelicans haven’t played overwhelming better over the same stretch at 6-9 in the W/L column, but they still wield two giants in the lineup.
Since the deadline, Zion Williamson is averaging 31.1 points, 7.7 rebounds and 4.5 assists. He’s second in the league in scoring during this span, trailing only the hottest basketball player on the planet in Stephen Curry (38.2 PPG). The ever steady Brandon Ingram ranks 21st at 24.3 points per game.
Care to guess who is leading the Magic in scoring since the trade deadline? As a hint, somewhat surprisingly, it’s not Terrance Ross (14.2 PPG).
Orlando has eight players averaging double figures, and sitting atop that list is Wendell Carter Jr. The former Chicago Bull is enjoying his best stretch of the season with 14.5 points, 8.8 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1.2 steals and 0.9 blocks in 28.0 minutes a night.
The Magic have been playing loose with little to play for outside of individual glory, so it’s not a surprise that a roster devoid of a star has seen this many contributors.
Orlando represents another opponent that New Orleans should probably beat based on their overall level of talent, but there are no safe bets with this team. The Pelicans have a 10-11 record against the top 10 teams in the league but an 11-15 record against the bottom 14.
Make that make sense to any non-fan.
Case in point, New Orleans is riding a four-game losing streak at the hands of the Eastern Conference, including a couple of crushing overtime losses to the Wizards and Knicks.
Following the recent heartbreaking results, the Pelicans find themselves 3.5 games in back of the Warriors and Spurs for a play-in tournament spot. As I’ve written previously, seeing any postseason action feels like a pipe dream at this point, so it’s all about internal growth.
On top of wanting to see Zion, Ingram and the rest of the young nucleus continue with their development, the best story currently unfolding is Naji Marshall.
Naji Marshall: 3.9 assists, 0.9 turnovers per game since he started getting rotation minutes in early April. An 11-game span. pic.twitter.com/C5dAwonEHw— Christian Clark (@cclark3000) April 22, 2021
Marshall is averaging 9.6 points, 5.5 rebounds and 3.9 assists here in the month of April, but what’s captured everyone’s attention is the tenacity oozing from the rookie on every possession. Many have fallen in love with what they’ve seen and I fully expect the Pelicans to give Naji a regular NBA contract in the near future.
Mark Schindler of premiumhoops.org posted a good breakdown of Marshall’s competitive fire and contributions during this month. Give it a read!
I've really enjoyed watching Naji Marshall play in New Orleans.— Mark Schindler (@MSchindlerNBA) April 21, 2021
I wrote about how he's earning minutes by stealing space on court, his fit with Zion, the importance of second-side actions, and highlight what Naji's brought to the Pelshttps://t.co/BzYfElg3UB
As for ‘Geaux Pels,’ it’s fair to say we’ve reached the fork in the road in which one shouldn’t blame fans for either hoping for a slew of wins to reach the postseason or an increase in the amount of draft lottery balls.
When: April 22, 6:00 p.m. Central
Where to watch: Bally Sports New Orleans
Where to listen: ESPN 100.3 FM