With Zion Williamson and Lonzo Ball’s chemistry, the New Orleans Pelicans have recently turned into a team that everybody wants to watch. And with the Pelicans just a few games out of reach of that number eight seed, we all want to see if these guys make the playoffs. Everybody is rooting for a first-round Lakers-Pelicans matchup, and wouldn’t that just be the best? As of this week, New Orleans had a 67% chance of making the postseason, so we’ll be closely monitoring their playoff push in the coming weeks. They’re now just two games away from the Grizzlies for that final seed in the West! So can Zion help lead this team to the finish line?
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Zion Williamson is healthy and killing it
Zion Williamson is fully recovered from knee surgery after sitting out 44 games, and he’s already being mentioned in Rookie of the Year conversations with names like Ja Morant. Williamson came in as the hot number one draft pick this year, and he’s basically just begun having one of the most impressive rookie seasons ever with the Pelicans. This week he became the first player since Michael Jordan to put up at least 25 points in four consecutive games. At only 19 years old, he has 10 games in a row with 20 or more points.
Morant was basically a shoe-in for Rookie of the Year until Zion came back into the picture. There’s no rule that the winner has to play a minimum number of games, and if Zion continues his current performance and manages to take his team to the playoffs, he just might win it. Other things people like about Zion? He has a good head on his shoulders, he’s efficient, and he only cares about his team. It’s not about him. While Zion isn’t racking up too many minutes just yet as the Pelicans continue to take it slow with his knee, he’s still averaging 23.3 points and 7.1 rebounds in only 28.4 minutes per game.
Brandon Ingram is also back on the court after mending an ankle sprain, so the Pelicans are finally healthy heading into the last 20-something games of the regular season. That means they’ve got their best lineup starting back – Williamson, Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Jrue Holiday, and Derrick Favors.
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According to Holiday, “I feel like we’ve really got into a rhythm, especially introducing Zion and B.I. coming back now. I feel like there’s a lot of firepower. Defensively, we’ve grown and gotten a lot better. It’s not going to be easy, but it’s going to be fun to say the least. All we have to do is play our game. I feel like we’ve shown against the best teams that if we play our game and play it the right way, we’ll always put ourselves in a position to win.”
The Pelicans’ current performance is in stark contrast to the 13-point losing streak (the longest in franchise history) they had to push through without Williamson in the mix. Back in December, they were 6-22. Now they’ve got their sights set on the postseason. That’s the end goal. According to head coach Alvin Gentry, “Even with the disastrous 13-game losing streak, we’ve still put ourselves in a position where if we make a run, we can be in the game. And getting Zion and seeing how he fits in, every day we figure out a little bit more. All of those things are very significant moving forward.” Their strategy? Treat it like college ball, and just win enough games to make the tournament.
If the Pelicans can manage to sneak into the playoffs, they’ll have a date with LeBron and Anthony Davis, and that’s big news for TV ratings. Meanwhile, the team they’d have to steal that spot from, the Grizzlies, aren’t helping themselves at all by losing five in a row. In addition, Memphis has a difficult remaining schedule, and the Pelicans have one of the easiest in the league. Still, they have to meet up with the Lakers again on Sunday before battling the Minnesota Timberwolves at home on Tuesday. Whatever happens, it’ll be fun to watch!