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A pathway to victory over Trail Blazers might exist for Pelicans

Naji Marshall, Dyson Daniels and Kira Lewis Jr. should be placed in prominent roles

Detroit Pistons v New Orleans Pelicans Photo by Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE via Getty Images

The injury report has seemingly claimed a victim or two before every tip-off.

The New Orleans Pelicans have amassed 206 missed games due to either injury or health and safety protocols through three-quarters of the season. Only the Miami Heat and Orlando Magic have suffered more across the league.

The news didn’t get any brighter yesterday, with Jose Alvarado (right tibial stress reaction) joining Zion Williamson (right hamstring strain) and Larry Nance Jr. (left ankle sprain) on the unavailability list for tonight’s matchup against the Portland Trail Blazers. All of their returns appear weeks away at a minimum.

There’s also a good chance that either Josh Richardson (right quad contusion) or Jonas Valanciunas (left calf contusion) get restricted to the sidelines as well tonight, as both were tagged with questionable labels on yesterday’s report.

An increase in the amount of injuries was the last thing the Pelicans and its fan base want to see, with the team having lost 13 of the last 20 games. Given the organization’s typical history with injuries, though, bad luck always seems to sit around the corner.

So what hope is there that the Pelicans can fetch a victory in Portland later today? Admittedly, there’s not as much as anyone would like, with starting lineups remaining a problem after a change and the offense continuing to sputter since Williamson hit the shelf. However, there are several wrinkles that Willie Green could introduce.

Replacing Trey Murphy with Josh Richardson in the starting lineup has not paid immediate dividends. In hindsight, Green should have perhaps opted for Naji Marshall, who has performed miles better as a starter than a reserve.

Games Minutes Points Rebounds Assists Steals FG% 3PT% FTA
Starter 19 33.5 15.4 5.4 3.3 1.1 46.5% 33.3% 4.0
Reserve 38 20.2 6.5 2.9 2.1 0.7 39.0% 29.3% 1.6

There’s no time like the present to reinsert Marshall into the starting lineup, regardless of whether Richardson is available tonight or not. Marshall plays much more aggressively as a starter, leading to the stronger production. He drives into the lane more frequently. His play-making shows more confidence. His defensive activity is higher.

All of these attributes are desperately needed, especially with CJ McCollum and Valanciunas currently battling through ailments. Herb Jones and Richardson simply cannot fill the necessary void like Marshall.

In rewatching the 101-93 loss to the Orlando Magic, the Pelicans’ best offensive stretch occurred in the second quarter, with Marshall in the thick of the action. The team’s ball movement was good and it played with the most force of the night. Remember when Zion said that he, Naji and Dyson Daniels are the best passers on the team? Yeah, precisely.

Putting Marshall next to Brandon Ingram not only feels like a must, it would balance out the rotation better. With Alvarado landing on the shelf, Richardson could fill the role of the pesky defensive guard off the bench. As for the missing playmaking off the bench, two players should enter the rotation to help with that and more.

Over the last few games, fans have voiced an eagerness on social media to see Daniels and Kira Lewis Jr. on the floor. For a team that needs sparks and greater production, it’s impossible to argue against the idea.

A healthy Daniels is one of the team’s best multiple-effort players. He’s as good as they come defensively, despite his rookie status. He’s also a good rebounder and fantastic passer.

Lewis, on the other hand, could supply a lot of offensive firepower with his game-changing speed and sudden adept shooting. His numbers on Basketball Reference suggest a real breakout campaign.

In my mind’s eye, Lewis makes for an interesting comparison to Detroit’s Jaden Ivey because of their dynamic abilities as smaller guards. The numbers in the chart below are per 100 possessions.

Points Rebounds Assists Turnovers Steals FG% 3PTA 3PT% FTA FT%
Kira Lewis 25.6 8.8 4.6 2.4 1.5 49.2% 6.7 45.5% 4.6 93.3%
Jaden Ivey 25.9 5.4 3.3 3.3 1.1 42.3% 9.2 34.2% 6.1 87.5%

Don’t laugh at the comparison. While there’s about a three inch difference in height, they’re both within a year of each other in age and Ivey has actually accumulated more professional minutes than Lewis.

Expect for a lot of focus to be on CJ McCollum and Damian Lillard, who will be on the floor together but wearing different uniforms for the first time in their careers. However, I’m going to be eying Naji Marshall, Dyson Daniels and Kira Lewis Jr. because utilizing them in proper roles could lead to a much-needed win for the Pelicans.

Handing a loss to teams below them in the standings would make for a great start to help stay inside the play-in picture.

Who: New Orleans Pelicans (30-32) at Portland Trail Blazers (29-32)

When: March 1, 9:00 p.m. CT

Where to watch: Bally Sports New Orleans, ESPN, 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.