The 2023 NBA All-Star Weekend is officially over, which means all eyes are back to the final months of the regular season. Organizations such as the New Orleans Pelicans are battling for a playoff spot, so their remaining games should be must-see television.
The Pelicans are 30-28 and No. 6 in the Western Conference, the last team with a playoff spot without the Play-In Tournament. However, they were once one of the top seeds of the conference. Following Zion Williamson’s injury in January, the team went on a 10-game losing streak.
New Orleans is currently 1.5 games ahead of the Oklahoma City Thunder, the last team in the Play-In Tournament zone.
With hopes of making the postseason, the Pelicans should have a tough final stretch in the regular season. With that being said, here are three bold predictions for the New Orleans Pelicans following the 2023 NBA All-Star break.
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3. Brandon Ingram is the team’s best player
Although the Pelicans had a strong start to the season, they notably missed one of their main players. So far, Brandon Ingram has appeared in only 24 games this season as he dealt with a toe injury. The forward ended up missing more than two months of action.
When healthy, Ingram is averaging 22.4 points, 5.0 rebounds, and 4.9 assists plus 0.8 steals and 0.5 blocks a night. He is shooting 46.9% from the field, 40.7% from the 3-point line, and 87.6% from the charity stripe.
In addition to Williamson’s injury, Ingram’s absence has seriously affected the Pelicans. Without two of their main players for big portions of the season, they have struggled in many moments.
The bold prediction is that Ingram will bounce back and be the team’s best player for the remainder of the season. Fans should expect numbers close to his 2019-20 All-Star year, which should help New Orleans make the playoffs.
2. Zion Williamson returns just before the end of the regular season
As it was previously mentioned, Zion Williamson’s hamstring injury has been a big problem for the franchise. In four years in the NBA, the former Duke Blue Devil has played in just 114 total games, including when he missed the entire 2021-22 season.
In 2022-23 so far, Williamson has appeared in only 29 games and has no set time to return. He is putting up 26.0 points, 7.0 rebounds, and 4.6 assists plus over a steal a contest. He is making 60.8% of his field-goal attempts, 36.8% of his 3-pointers, and 71.4% of his free throws.
On Feb. 12, New Orleans Executive VP of Basketball Operations David Griffin said that the team is “looking at multiple weeks past All-Star break” that Williamson will be sidelined. Griffin also said that the forward reaggravated his injury during a practice.
While there is so much uncertainty surrounding the situation, the bold prediction is that Williamson will return just before the end of the regular season. This means that the team will still miss him for a long period. Because of that, New Orleans will need a big help from its supporting cast and its top scorers Ingram and CJ McCollum.
1. Pelicans fall in the standings but stay in the Play-In Tournament zone
At the end of the day, the ultimate goal for the Pelicans is to qualify for the playoffs for the second straight year. However, with Williamson out for an indefinite period and the recent losing streaks, the goal has become a challenge.
To make matters worse, West foes such as the Dallas Mavericks and Phoenix Suns got stronger with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant, respectively. Other teams currently out of the playoffs also got more help such as the Los Angeles Lakers with D’Angelo Russell. But there is hope in Louisiana.
Should Ingram play at an All-Star level, the Pelicans could at least stay around the same level they were prior to the multiple injuries. Additionally, McCollum would need to continue averaging 20-plus points with efficiency from beyond the arc. Jonas Valančiunas would need to be a force on both sides of the floor with his rebounding plus his ability to spread the floor.
However, things won’t be easy. Whenever Durant returns, the Suns should likely become a powerhouse in the league. This should result in No. 5 Phoenix distancing itself from New Orleans. Also, No. 7 Dallas with Irving could likely threaten the Pelicans’ current No. 6 position.
The bold prediction is that New Orleans will end up struggling and falling in the standings. Still, the Pelicans should manage to stay in the top 10. This means that they would be in the 2023 Play-In Tournament. If the 2021-22 season indicates something, New Orleans can surprise the league and make it to the playoffs via the Play-In.