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No top team’s star duo has come close to missing more games than Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson

A great season potentially hangs in the balance for the New Orleans Pelicans

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Brooklyn Nets v New Orleans Pelicans Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

After posting a 2-3 record on their most recent road trip, the New Orleans Pelicans return to the friendly confines of the Smoothie King Center, where they’re 17-5 overall, to face the Miami Heat tonight.

The team has performed remarkably well up to this point, defending home court and beating sub-.500 teams the vast majority of time. However, it’s legitimate to ask whether they can maintain that pace.

The Pelicans are 7-5 in games when Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram have both been unavailable but have lost four of their last six without them.

Williamson has missed a total of 15 games and is currently sidelined by a right hamstring strain. Although he is scheduled to get reevaluated early next week, there’s an expectation that he’ll wind up missing more than a month.

As for Ingram, multiple times it was believed his return was just around the corner, but he’s now missed a total of 25 games due to a great left toe contusion. Fans are not alone in their frustrations with this injury as people within the Pelicans’ organization are reportedly beginning to feel irritated about the whole situation, per Christian Clark of Nola.com.

Inside the Pelicans’ organization, frustration about Ingram’s extended absence has started to mount. It is not a novel feeling either. The amount of games Ingram missed last season with minor injuries caused a similar sentiment among Pelicans’ staffers and several of his teammates.

Ingram should be back on the court in the very near future, but until that transpires, he and Williamson will continue to rack up the absences, unlike at a rate of their star counterparts. Have a look at how many games the top two leading scorers missed for the teams above the Pelicans in the standings.

Star duo Games Missed Team Record
Jayson Tatum/Jaylen Brown 7 33-12
Nikola Jokic/Jamal Murray 11 31-13
Ja Morant/Desmond Bane 27 30-13
Giannis Antetokounmpo/Jrue Holiday 21 29-16
Joel Embiid/James Harden 26 28-16
Kevin Durant/Kyrie Irving 15 27-16
Donovan Mitchell/Darius Garland 14 28-17
Brandon Ingram/Zion Williamson 44 26-18

There’s two ways to look at this chart, I suppose.

It’s incredibly impressive that New Orleans has a top 8 record in the league despite Williamson and Ingram sitting out 44 games. The depth on this Pelicans team is arguably the best in the league.

On the other hand, the odds are growing that the what-ifs at the end of the season will be loud. As John Hollinger points out, it’s important to finish in the top 3 to have realistic championship aspirations.

Historically, the No. 3 seed has been the great dividing line between contender legitimacy and also-ran status. There’s a 97 percent chance the eventual champion will be a top-three seed and a 3 percent chance it will be somebody else. Only one team seeded lower than third has won the championship since 1980 (the 1995 Houston Rockets). If you extend that history back to “ever,” you can get to two teams in 76 years.

The Pelicans, after having briefly sat in first place the Western Conference standings, now find themselves in third. That’s good. However, the Grizzlies and Nuggets have created some separation at the top, and worse, the Kings and Mavericks are creeping closer and closer.

Getting Ingram and Williamson back soon and having them largely finish out the remaining schedule could not only lead to home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs but much more. Adding a notable number of more missed games to already worrisome totals, hopes for a great season could get washed away.

Who: New Orleans Pelicans (26-18) vs Miami Heat (24-21)

When: January 18, 2023, 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.