The New Orleans Pelicans are in the midst of their worst stretch of the season, having lost seven of their last 10 games. There’s a chance to steady the ship, though, with a matchup in Orlando against the Magic tonight.
The Magic have hovered near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings all season and are 3-7 in their last 10. However, prior to this stretch, they did cobble together eight victories in nine contests. That included a couple of W’s over the Boston Celtics.
There’s talent in Orlando and everything starts at the forward position. Paulo Banchero (21.1 points, 6.6 rebounds, 3.8 assists) and Franz Wagner (20.3 points, 3.3 assists, 1.7 3s) are leading the promising youth movement. Wagner is questionable to play with a left ankle sprain, but there are other pieces to be excited about.
Bol Bol is flourishing in the first prominent role of his career and has started 32 of 39 games. As a starter, he’s averaging 12.3 points, 7.3 rebounds and 1.4 blocks, while shooting 58.3% from the field and 38.7% from the 3-point line.
Rounding out one of tallest starting lineups in the league are Wendell Carter (15.8 points, 8.6 rebounds) and Markelle Fultz (12.2 points, 5.6 assists).
Over the last ten games, the Magic and Pelicans have posted near identical offensive and defensive ratings. The absences of Brandon Ingram, Herb Jones and Zion Williamson have been felt deeply during a difficult portion of the schedule.
While Williamson and Ingram have already been ruled out, Jones is listed as questionable to play; however, another prominent name was added to the latest injury report. Naji Marshall is questionable with right big toe soreness.
The approach will once again be all hands on deck regardless of the availabilities of Jones and Marshall, though, there could be a spark sitting on Willie Green’s bench.
Kira Lewis Jr. has appeared in scant minutes across six games, but he’s shown far greater proficiency than a teammate sitting above him on the depth chart.
Devonte’ Graham has struggled immensely since the start of December and his shot is showing no signs of life. In his last 24 games, his frigid shooting percentages (31.6 FG%, 23.6 3PT%) really stand out because that’s his primary responsibility.
Across 46 minutes of action, Lewis has made exactly half of his field goal attempts, 40% of this 3s and all eight of his free throw attempts. Obviously, it’s the smallest of sample sizes, but for a team requiring a jolt, Lewis could help.
These are considered the dog days of the NBA schedule. Teams have passed the halfway mark of games played and the All-Star respite is still weeks away. Role players, especially those unaccustomed to big minutes, are dealing with heavier legs and probably some mental fatigue as well.
New Orleans’ reserves have done a masterful job up to this point, but many of them have been pressed into greater duty. In the last matchup against the Heat, Miami looked infinitely fresher. Better preparation and attention to the game plan would have helped, but so would the addition of energy and confidence.
Graham’s slump couldn’t have come at a worse time. However, Green isn’t entirely without options. Giving the usual backup guard some time off to reset while taking advantage of Lewis’ high-revving motor could pay immediate dividends.
The Pelicans need to find a way to stay afloat in the West until reinforcements arrive. They’ve slipped to fourth in the standings, so deviating from the status quo should be given a lot of consideration.
When: January 20, 2023, 6:00 p.m. CT
Where to watch: Bally Sports New Orleans, League Pass
Where to listen: WRNO 99.5