CJ McCollum, Pelicans continue to fight for play-in position

Benny Greenspan, Staff Reporter

pelicans basketball
Matthew Tate

Since our last update, the New Orleans Pelicans have been able to cement themselves into the play-in tournament, as they currently stand as the 10th seed, 1.5 games in between the No. 11 seed Portland Trailblazers and the No. 9 seed Los Angeles Lakers.

A large part behind New Orleans’ recent turnaround was their acquisition of CJ McCollum, who they got along with Larry Nance Jr. before the trade deadline for Josh Hart, Tomas Satoransky, Nickeil Alexander-Walker and draft picks. 

McCollum made an instant impact, specifically on the offensive end, averaging 26.6 points per game in his first 11 games as a Pelican. This contributed to the Pelicans jumping to sixth in points per game over their last ten games, averaging a little over 119 points per game.  

As their offense improves, so has their defense, as the Pelicans have been 10th in defensive rating over their last 10 games, and third over their last five. The Pelicans used length to their advantage, playing two big man lineups with Jonas Valanciunas and Jackson Hayes, as well as having Herbert Jones and Brandon Ingram on the perimeter. 

This efficiency on both ends will be key to the Pelicans as they try to jump the Lakers for the ninth seed. Jumping the Lakers is not only important to the Pelicans due to home court advantage in the play-in game, but can also lead them to gaining the rights to the Lakers upcoming first round pick, which they will have only if it lands in the top 10.

Of course, the main X-factor for the Pelicans the entire year has been former first overall pick Zion Williamson, who recently took a positive step in his recovery from his leg injury that has lasted the whole season to this point. Williamson was cleared to return to New Orleans and resume basketball activities, meaning his return may be sometime soon, barring any setback. 

With CJ McCollum contributing greatly and Williamson’s hopeful return, the Pelicans are in position to carry momentum with them into the play-in tournament. This team is not looking like an easy out that other teams thought it would be at the beginning of the year.