The New Orleans Pelicans are saying all the right things before their matchup against the Orlando Magic tonight.
“I’d say it’s high,” CJ McCollum said about the team’s sense of urgency after the morning’s shootaround. “We had some good conversations today. We had a good shootaround. We understand what’s at stake for not only tonight but the rest of the season.”
The Pelicans have lost 19 of their last 26 games, which began with a New Year Eve’s 116-101 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies. Going without Zion Williamson for the vast majority of this stretch was always going to be problematic, but the Pelicans shouldn’t have the fourth-lowest winning percentage in the NBA since Dec. 31. There’s more than enough talent on the team and Brandon Ingram has appeared in 11 games since returning from a toe injury.
When a season suddenly turns upside down, sometimes a team’s unity can dissipate. Players choose to go their separate ways in the locker room. That doesn’t appear to be the case with the Pelicans — at least not yet.
“Dialogue is good,” McCollum said. “You have to have constant dialogue through a season. There’s times where you need to speak on things. There’s times when you need to act on things. We’ve spoken on it. Now it’s time to for us to act. Get off to a good start and put on a better performance.”
McCollum proceeded to plainly state that the starting lineup has to be better and he’s confident they will rise to the occasion.
The Pelicans starting lineup was trending terribly before the All-Star break. Then a few nights ago, the Knicks smashed the starting group of McCollum, Josh Richardson, Brandon Ingram, Herb Jones and Jonas Valanciunas, outscoring them by 14 points in a tick over 12 minutes.
New Orleans knows the execution has to improve dramatically, but is it possible to flip the switch after suffering two of their worst losses in the span of three games? Call me skeptical. There’s a lot of leaks on board the ship right now.
The offense has had trouble scoring points over the last two months. Trey Murphy and Jonas Valanciunas have consistently been underutilized. The defense, and particularly, the effort levels have slipped substantially. Not only is the team still without Zion, Larry Nance Jr., one of the most important and productive players on the roster, could be out for weeks with a left ankle sprain.
Two months ago, fans circled this matchup against Orlando as a win. However, since Dec. 31, the Magic have gone 12-12. One of those wins came against the Pelicans, when New Orleans was in the midst of a 10-game losing streak.
The door to possibly squeeze into the Eastern Conference Play-In Tournament remains open for the Magic. The Pelicans are going to have to play leaps and bounds better than they’ve shown to secure the win over Paolo Banchero, Franz Wagner and company.
Who: New Orleans Pelicans (30-31) vs Orlando Magic (25-36)
When: February 27, 7:00 p.m. CT
Where to watch: Bally Sports New Orleans, League Pass
Where to listen: WRNO 99.5
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