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New Orleans Pelicans

The Wild Wild West

Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

As we hit the quarter point of the NBA season, I thought it’d be a good idea to take a wide-lens view of the Western Conference. One of the things that I always find, is that as you watch a team closely, it can be hard to remember that a big component of the game is luck. So whether you think last night’s Pel’s loss was because of the team not being very good, because the coaching isn’t very good, or the referees were completely in on it (I got my eye on you Ken Mauer), let’s forget about all that for now and take a look at the teams around where the Pelicans should be by season’s end. Take this all with a grain of salt, we are only a quarter of the way through and for all I know the Kings, Mavs, and Suns could turn it around and be the 2-4 seed by year’s end.

Pelicans: I’ll keep it short, but the team is currently in the seventh seed. I repeat your New Orleans Basketball team is the seventh seed. There’ve been bumps in the road (supposedly this team played in Denver but I personally don’t remember the game at all), but all in all, the team is currently sitting in a place most should be happy with. As lame as it sounds, this is what around .500 basketball play looks like. There will be games you have no business, games that you have no business losing and the rest are tossups. If there was a dark cloud above this team, it’s that they look like they should be so much better at times. The silver lining is also that the team looks like it could get better.  Welcome to .500 ball, where it’s only slightly more satisfying than .400 ball.

Nuggets: One theme that you’re gonna see early and often is that there are a lot of injuries to the teams hovering around the 6-8 seed. The first one is Paul Milsap who had wrist surgery and will be out for around 3 months. Since he’s been out, the team’s gone 3-2, including a 77-106 drubbing to the Utah Jazz. They’ve used a different starting lineup in each game since the injury as they try to figure out the rotation without Milsap. The bad news for Pels fans is that two of their next three are against the Bulls and Mavs, the worst team in each conference, before playing in NOLA next Wednesday. So if ever there was a time for the Nugs to finalize their rotation, it’d be over this stretch before facing the Pels.

Jazz: For the Jazz, they lost Rudy Gobert in the midst of a three game losing streak in an already tight West. He’s been out since November 10th and is still expected to miss 1-3 more weeks. Unlike the Nuggets however, the Jazz have almost exclusively stuck with the same starting lineup they found after one game. Their answer, starting Jonas Jerebko as the 4 and pushing Derrick Favors to the 5. In his 8 games as the starter, Jonas Jerebko has been a key piece, posting a NetRtg (the team’s point differential per 100 possessions while he is on court) of 13.5. The Jazz have won 3 straight and a lot of it has to do with continued defensive excellence despite missing the Stifle Tower in Gobert. They currently rank 4th in defensive efficiency and they’ve won their last 3 by an average of 24 points. They play the Clippers tonight before the Pellies meet them for the second night of a back to back in Utah on Friday. Speaking of the Clippers…

Clippers: Presently, I’m willing to declare the Clippers as the most unlucky/injured team so far this season. The news that Milos Teodosic (out for 17 games) and Danilo Gallinari (Out for 10) could still potentially miss another 10 games is not great. In the last week the Clippers have lost Patrick Beverley for the rest of the year (torn meniscus) and Blake Griffin for 2 months (MCL strain/having Austin Rivers as a teammate). If you’re keeping track at home, that is now four of the team’s five opening night starters. Not great Bob. Tonight’s Jazz game is actually the first game without Blake, so keep an eye on how they look with Sam Dekker potentially starting tonight.

Grizzlies: Last night was a test of core pillars of NBA knowledge in San Antonio. Would the quirky fire-coach-win-the-next-game adage hold up to not having 5 rotation players available? The answer was no. What originally looked like a devastating 3 week injury for Mike Conley, sort of pales in comparison now to the other injuries mentioned here. However, the Grizz had lost two games in a row before the Conley injury and it’s only gotten much worse since then. They’ve now lost 9 in a row and former associate coach JB Bickerstaff is was promoted to interim head coach after David Fizzdale was ousted. Winning cures all and apparently losing a lot exposes all the cracks in the foundation. The team was in the middle of a culture shift from Grit & Grind to a more modern, face paced style under Fizz, an Erick Spolstra disciple. While I don’t foresee anything drastic, make no mistake, the Grizz are in turmoil.

Thunder: The team with probably the most upheaval and questions in their starting lineup coming into the season, the Thunder still don’t look great. Once again, we’re seeing superteams don’t come together overnight. The Thunder are currently 4 games under .500 having not won in their division and being only 2-9 away. The team still looks lost at times on offense and have lost 3 straight to the Pistons, West worst Mavs, and the regressing-to-the-mean-very-quickly Orlando Magic. I still think they’ll figure it out, but through a fourth of the games, there’s not much to point at and feel good about.

So there you have it, a sort of 1st quarter report on the middle of the Western Conference. Whether it’s do to the West being so injured, so competitive that they beat up on each other, or worse than everyone thought they might be, it’s not a pretty picture. It has however, helped buoy the Pelicans through the first quarter of the season, while they battle their own injuries and figuring out rotations/offense. Oh and which referee crews fans should hate.

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From New Orleans by way of Escondido, Luis Enrique Corzo is one of the original moderators of the Pelicans SubReddit and contributed work to the now defunct Stoop Sports.

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