And by perfect, I literally mean perfect.
Not only did they move to 2-0 in the Western Conference standings, they also haven’t trailed for a single second of the 96 minutes played thus far this season.
While the game in Brooklyn was never in doubt throughout its second half, the matchup in Charlotte was up for grabs. With 7:21 remaining in the fourth quarter, New Orleans clung to just a 96-94 advantage.
Out of a timeout though, the Pelicans regrouped and went to work.
Starting with a Brandon Ingram 3-pointer, the Pelicans converted points on seven of nine possessions, outscoring the Hornets 17-9 in less than four minutes of action to largely put the game on ice.
Ingram bookended the scoring, adding nicely to his game-high 28 points to go with nine rebounds and seven assists, but it was Jonas Valanciunas who walked away with the game ball.
The starting center was dominant in every facet, posting 30 points, 17 rebounds and 4 assists. He knocked down eight of 11 from the field and 13 of his 14 free throw attempts, but don’t overlook his interior presence on the defensive end too.
“JV was a monster tonight on both ends of the floor,” Willie Green said. “Rebounding the ball, scoring in the paint, but defensively, he was great for us. Blocking shots, high hands, getting deflections, up in pick and rolls, so a lot of what we work on he executed the game plan to a tee.”
To be honest, the Pelicans very well may have a Big 4 residing in New Orleans. It’s been only two games, but four players are averaging north of 20 points, to go along with all their other positive contributions.
CJ McCollum flew a bit under the radar but 10 of his 21 points in the third quarter helped the Pelicans keep pace with the Hornets, who showed greater intensity throughout the second half.
“Our team is deep,” Zion Williamson said. “We have a lot of pieces. It’s different. I haven’t played with a team like this through my entire life. Closest was college, but at the pro level, this is something different. I say it all the time, but this is a special team and I’m excited to see what we’re going to do.”
Williamson, who had 150 people from his high school and another 50 friends sitting in the Spectrum Center crowd, had 16 points, five rebounds and three assists. However, his normal touch was missing as evidenced by 12 misses from the field and another two from the foul line.
“I guess the frustration mostly comes from myself,” Williamson said. “Those are shots that I’ve just got to finish. So that’s where all that frustration is coming because I’m getting the shots I want, but I’ve got to be able to finish through contact.”
Williamson was away from regular season action for 17+ months. Some rust was always expected. David Griffin cautioned us about this very thing on media day. But to be fair, Williamson should be getting judged more impartially, even if his touch isn’t up to normal standards yet.
The barreling phenom should have finished with a lot more than four free throw attempts. He was often mugged multiple times on just a single drive. For whatever reason though, NBA officials are looking through the cloudiest of glasses, not blowing their whistles unless blood is drawn.
Thankfully, Williamson is being more vocal with the officials early this season. However, he’s not alone. Herb Jones was called for a technical after arguing on behalf of Zion. Ingram has also been caught voicing his displeasure.
After BI was hit on the elbow and a badly missed jumper ensued, he must have pled his case to the closest referee for over 30 seconds as the action continued.
One has to believe the two stars will soon start garnering more respect, but until that happens, the team must continue to fight through the adversity.
Every indication is they will.
Along with Jones still coming up with the highest degree of difficultly blocks, Larry Nance Jr. is swatting opponent attempts near the rim. Trey Murphy and Jose Alvarado are ripping steals.
The energy and effort are evident, but the consistency can be improved upon. Similar to the opener against the Nets, the starters shined, with each player finishing with a sparkling plus-minus. However, the same cannot be said about the bench when Green has needed to delve into rotations.
No one appears to be struggling more than Devonte’ Graham, who, once again, is having issues with his shot. His preseason confidence has seemingly evaporated. If he’s not knocking down the outside jumper, it’s not clear what other positives he is providing.
It’s understandable that slumps happen. That a new season can bring unfamiliarity. There should be some patience to work through the kinks, but it’s harder to justify when there are other able-bodied options.
Alvarado has been sharp but has seen a total of 31 minutes through two games. Dyson Daniels did many things well in preseason but score consistently. His calling-card defense, though, feels like a great fit for when Jones takes a breather.
This will be something to monitor moving forward. If a player is struggling, Green has the luxury of turning to another because this team sports fantastic depth.
Either way, we shouldn’t dwell on this topic too much too soon. We’re two games in, and in front of a lot of family and friends in North Carolina, a number of Pelicans were able to share in the joy of posting their second road win in as many tries.
During the last campaign, the Pelicans didn’t fetch win No. 2 overall until two weeks into November. What a difference a year can make.
Zion’s right, this team does feel special.