The New Orleans Pelicans are incredibly familiar with Friday’s opponent. The question is, how many players will be at Willie Green’s disposal?
The last time they met the Phoenix Suns was in the game 6 loss during the 2022 playoffs. With that first round series ending to no one’s satisfaction, the Pelicans can use the painful memory as a source of motivation.
“We’re definitely focused on the fact that we played them in the playoffs,” Willie Green said after yesterday’s practice. “In the Western Conference, that’s one of the teams you have to go through. So that will be on our minds.”
Another source of possible inspiration could be the return of one or more big guns to the lineup — provided other fresh names to the injury list are able to play through their maladies.
Joining Zion Williamson, Herb Jones and Brandon Ingram on the yesterday’s report were CJ McCollum (right third PIP sprain), Dyson Daniels (left ankle sprain) and Jose Alvarado (lower back spasms).
Zion Williamson, Herb Jones, Jose Alvarado, Dyson Daniels and CJ McCollum are all questionable for tomorrow’s game against Phoenix.— Andrew Lopez (@_Andrew_Lopez) October 27, 2022
Alvarado - low back spasms
Dyson - left ankle sprain
CJ - right third PIP (finger) sprain pic.twitter.com/ZOjU55JOyj
“Zion and Herb went through a portion of practice, so they’ll be questionable, but Brandon didn’t, so he won’t be on the trip,” Green said.
So to recap, Brandon Ingram, Kira Lewis Jr. and E.J. Liddell are out. Five others are questionable. That leaves eight remaining healthy bodies on the roster, plus Dereon Seabron, who could be recalled from Birmingham.
That’s distressing to read because this will mark game No. 5 of the regular season. There’s a decent chance that we’ll see at least one of Zion Williamson or Herb Jones though. They escaped serious injury in that fateful matchup with the Jazz last Sunday and were able to work up a sweat on Thursday.
“Feeling better, Williamson said. “That was a hard fall. I’ve taken a lot of falls, but damn. Nah, I’m feeling a lot better each day. I feel great.”
When Zion’s smiles, as he did in yesterday’s media interview, good things seem to follow.
Jones told media that he was going to shoot upon arrival in Phoenix and then go through Friday morning’s shootaround to determine his availability.
Even if a number of questionable players are ruled out, Williamson has full confidence in the rest of the team.
“If you look at the season last year, a few guys went down, a trade was made, and when their numbers got called, they stepped up,” Williamson said. “So to see what they did the other night, it wasn’t a shock. It was more, they’re doing what they do.”
As the Dallas Mavericks discovered, the Pelicans’ depth must be taken seriously, regardless of Christian Wood says. CJ McCollum and Jonas Valanciunas are capable of single-handedly carrying the load. Trey Murphy has to already be considered one of the premier perimeter threats in the league. Devonte’ Graham can get hot. And tireless effort is never an issue with Naji Marshall, Jose Alvarado, Dyson Daniels or Willy Hernangomez.
The biggest concern in my eyes right now is Brandon Ingram, who is going to miss New Orleans’ next three games at a minimum. His return is not imminent as he’s in the “beginning phases” of clearing the concussion protocol, per Willie Green.
According to the NBA’s concussion policy, Ingram has to meet a number of benchmarks before he’ll be allowed to suit up. In addition to needing to show no concussion-related symptoms at rest and getting evaluated by a physician, he must also complete the NBA return-to-participation exertion process.
The return to participation process involves several steps of increasing exertion – from a stationary bike, to jogging, to agility work, to non-contact team drills.
With each step, a focused neurological examination is performed and a player must be symptom free to move to the next step. If a player is not symptom free after a step, he stops until he is symptom free and begins again at the previous step of the process (i.e., the last step he passed without any symptoms).
It’s important to note that there is no timeframe to complete the process. Each injury and player is different and recovery time can vary in each case.
Since the NBA implemented the concussion protocol in 2011, players have missed an average of 3-4 games, or about 7-8 days.
The Pelicans are in the midst of their most difficult portion of the schedule, with six of the next seven games to be played on the road.
Playing without Ingram, or any other key Pelicans for that matter, during this upcoming stretch could severely impact the W/L record, perhaps eliminating most of the good vibes surrounding the 3-1 start of the gates.
As for the Suns, only Ish Wainright is listed as doubtful. They will be without Jae Crowder, but his absence hasn’t slowed their effectiveness.
The Suns have beaten three quality opponents (Mavericks, Clippers, Warriors) and lost in overtime to the Trail Blazers. Through four games, they have the seventh-best offense (114.9 ORTG) and third-best defense (103.5 DRTG).
With Devin Booker playing at an All-NBA level (32.5 points, 53 FG%, 48 3PT%) and Deandre Ayton providing good support (18.3 points, 9.5 rebounds), Chris Paul’s slow start (9.8 points, 36.8 FG%) hasn’t hindered the Suns in the win column.
It must also be mentioned that new additions to the roster, Damion Lee and Jock Landale, have been excellent off Phoenix’s bench.
These Suns are good. Period.
The Pelicans are going to be undermanned. Beating one of the top teams in the West at close to full strength will require a really special effort — likely an even greater showing than the one witnessed against the Mavericks.
Who: New Orleans Pelicans (3-1) at Phoenix Suns (3-1)
When: October 28, 2022, 9:00 p.m. CT
Where to watch: Bally Sports New Orleans, ESPN, League Pass
Where to listen: WRNO 99.5
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.