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Signs of special season appear to be brewing in New Orleans

When they square off against the Grizzlies tonight, remember that the Pelicans are trending really well

Memphis Grizzlies v New Orleans Pelicans Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images

We’re nearly a quarter of the way through the regular season. Three teams remain undefeated in divisional play across the league, with one residing in the Southwest.

The New Orleans Pelicans will put their perfect record on the line against the Grizzlies in Memphis later today. They’ve compiled a 4-0 record by posting a win over each division rival so far.

Dominating the Grizzlies, Mavericks, Rockets and Spurs in the same season is not commonplace. However, when the Pelicans finished with a combined record over .500 against divisional foes, they made the playoffs in every instance. (2007-08, 2008-09, 2010-11 and 2017-18)

Another favorable indicator, one much more reliable, is point differential. New Orleans currently slots third (+7.0), trailing only Cleveland (+7.9) and Phoenix (+7.3).

If the Pelicans can maintain something close to that position for the rest of the season, they would find themselves among great company. Three of the last five NBA champions finished third in point differential, with the other two placing fifth.

Winning games by larger margins is usually indicative of a good team. It also prevents randomness from determining too many outcomes.

The Pelicans have appeared in seven clutch games to date. That’s on a pace for 32 contests where the difference in the score will be five points or less with five minutes or less to go in regulation.

That’s a good thing.

Season Clutch games % of clutch games in season Clutch record Net rating
2014-15 44 53.7% 23-21 -0.1
2015-16 46 56.1% 18-28 -6.5
2016-17 44 53.7% 17-27 -2.7
2017-18 50 61.0% 30-20 +8.4
2018-19 45 54.9% 17-28 -8.7
2019-20 41 56.9% 13-28 -23.3
2020-21 39 54.2% 17-22 +4.1
2021-22 32 39.0% 14-18 -4.8
2022-23 7 38.9% 4-3 +16.3

While we’ve witnessed the franchise enjoy late-game success previously, say in 2017-18 where the Pelicans won 30 of 50 close finishes, relying heavily upon the team to escape with victories, though, has usually led to more examples of disappointment.

The Pelicans have not had a consistent closer for years a la a Chris Paul-like leader or a walking bucket in the mold of DeMar DeRozan. That 2017-18 roster had the perfect voice. Rajon Rondo spurred Anthony Davis, Jrue Holiday and others into winners, but as soon as he left for Los Angeles, late-game situations became a problem again.

Brandon Ingram finally overcame his personal crunch-time woes last season — and those good performances appear to have carried into this year as well, but it remains best to not leave a result hanging in the balance.

No one in New Orleans will forget Matt Ryan’s buzzer-beating 3-pointer in the loss to the Lakers any time soon. Also, you can be sure that most don’t want to leave fate up to chance with referee decision-making.

The Pelicans may be 11-7 in the standings, but there’s a lot more to like when digging further. They are a good team that’s done well to eliminate luck from the equation. There’s also a strong likelihood of a return to the playoffs, with a good chance of making a deeper postseason run.

Desmond Bane is expected to miss his sixth consecutive game due to a toe sprain, but New Orleans will be without CJ McCollum, who was placed in health and safety protocols yesterday.

So, posting another victory against Ja Morant and the Grizzlies, this time in Memphis, would further cement the argument that national media should probably start paying even more attention to the Pelicans.

Who: New Orleans Pelicans (11-7) at Memphis Grizzlies (10-8)

When: November 25, 2022, 7:00 p.m. CT

Where to watch: Bally Sports New Orleans, 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.