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Pelicans have real home court advantage and maybe top NBA atmosphere as well

Joel Embiid and the visiting 76ers are in for a treat tonight

Phoenix Suns v New Orleans Pelicans Photo by Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE via Getty Images

The New Orleans Pelicans have one of the best home records at 15-4 and a lot of credit should be attributed to the boisterous fans in attendance.

The turnouts have been fantastic — tonight’s game against the Philadephia 76ers will be the ninth sellout of the season — and the vast numbers have often led to playoff-like atmospheres inside the Smoothie King Center.

That’s a far departure from regular season games witnessed in previous campaigns, and as recently as at the start of last year.

Joel Embiid spoke about the 2021-22 season opener when Philly was in New Orleans. According to the figures, the recorded attendance was 12,845, or about 75% capacity of The Blender, but the five-time All-Star center remembers a much emptier environment.

Before hating on Embiid, realize that the recorded figures are paid attendance. Notable differences typically used to exist between tickets sold and those in actual attendance during middle of the week contests early in a season.

For additional corroboration, a current member of the Pelicans also remembered the sparse crowd for the home opener against the 76ers a little more than a year ago.

“I just remember coming to my first NBA game at home against the 76ers,” Trey Murphy said after Wednesday’s win over the Timberwolves. “I look out into the crowd and see my mom. I don’t see 30 people within her. It’s just a bunch of open seats. I was looking around and this is NBA basketball right here. Wow. And now, I can barely find my parents. It’s really a lot of love. I’m very excited for what’s to come. I really appreciate the fans a lot.”

Things are obviously far different now, so much so, Murphy believes the Smoothie King Center is the best atmosphere in the entire NBA.

“I really think that we have the best atmosphere in the entire league. Our fans show up in numbers and they are very loud. They let you know what they think as well. I think that’s just the New Orleans in us that show their emotion. Let the other team and the referees have it sometimes.”

Since this season’s home opener, the Smoothie King Center has been rocking and the team has noticed.

“You know, it’s crazy,” Brandon Ingram said after yesterday’s practice. “We played on a Monday and the gym was full. It’s crazy. From the time I arrived to now, we definitely have more fans, definitely have more people excited about the Pelicans.”

Monday’s game against the Pacers was a sell-out and so too was Wednesday’s contest against the Timberwolves. As mentioned earlier, it’ll be another sell-out tonight. Fans are coming out in full force to support these Pelicans — even some from halfway around the globe like Perth’s Lyle Swithenbank — and the players love it.

The best team and fanbase in the West may truly reside in New Orleans. It’s high time to stop scoffing at either idea.

Who: New Orleans Pelicans (22-12) vs Philadelphia 76ers (20-13)

When: December 30, 2022, 7:30 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.