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Student newspaper serving Tulane University, Uptown New Orleans

The Tulane Hullabaloo

Student newspaper serving Tulane University, Uptown New Orleans

The Tulane Hullabaloo

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Pelicans midseason update: Comparing to conference top contenders

The New Orleans Pelicans are led by stars Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram, and CJ McCollum. (Nathan Rich)

While the New Orleans Pelicans find themselves in a familiar spot in the standings — No. 8 in the Western Conference at the time of this writing — this season feels different. For one, much of the team, including 23-year-old Zion Williamson, has been relatively healthy all season, and the “season wasted because of injuries” theme appears to be finally gone — fingers crossed. And while eighth place in the West is nothing too special, the Pelicans are only two games back of fifth place in the West, a spot they recently held from Jan. 17 to 25

The Pelicans recently put up a strong fight in Boston against the Celtics, a team many consider to be the favorite to win the championship, including FanDuel, who lists them as the odds-on favorite at +310. The Pelicans ended up losing by 6 but stayed competitive until the final minute or so, even leading the Celtics with just over five minutes left. If the Pelicans can hang in there with a team like Boston, especially on the road, they can give anyone an honest challenge. 

And it feels like New Orleans picked the perfect year to feel as competitive and healthy as they have been, with the Western Conference appearing as wide open as it has in years. 

Two of the top three seeds in the West, the Minnesota Timberwolves and Oklahoma City Thunder, are upstart young teams with no experience past the first round of the playoffs led by their respective current stars, Anthony Edwards and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. The reigning champions, the Denver Nuggets, look about as good as they did last year during their dominant championship run — and currently hold the second seed. But repeating as champion in the NBA is challenging and hasn’t been done since the 2017-2018 Golden State Warriors, a team widely considered one of the best of all-time, accomplished the feat. Needless to say, the Nuggets have a tall task ahead of them come playoff time. 

Beyond the top three, there are numerous teams loaded with veteran talent seeking major playoff runs. LeBron’s Los Angeles Lakers, obviously, are always in the conversation, but a humbling sweep last season by the aforementioned Nuggets and swirling trade rumors make their chances at a deep run feel as unclear as ever. 

The Phoenix Suns have a plethora of scoring options with Kevin Durant, Devin Booker and Bradley Beal, but their depth and ability to remain healthy are serious question marks for them. The Los Angeles Clippers, led by Kawhi Leonard, have perhaps the league’s best roster on paper, with James Harden, Paul George and Russell Westbrook, but just like the Pelicans, they have struggled with staying healthy. 

The Sacramento Kings are good, but many are not sold on the idea that De’Aaron Fox can legitimately be the best player on a championship team. And while Luka Doncic is a generational talent, the Dallas Mavericks’ depth is extremely questionable, and Kyrie Irving has been unreliable since leaving Cleveland back in 2018. 

That said, this seems like as good of a year as any for the Pelicans to make some noise in the West and at least make it out of the first round. Williamson’s weight and effort have been called into question, but he’s still leading the team in scoring and getting up for some very athletic alley-oops. As a Pelicans fan, or even someone who just lives near the Smoothie King Center, this is a great opportunity to really lock in and follow the Pelicans down the stretch the rest of the season. 

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