A Very Pelicans Christmas

Despite some improved play as of late, it appears that the 8-23 New Orleans Pelicans will need a Christmas Miracle to get a win over the Denver Nuggets, currently the No. 2 team in the Western Conference. 

That miracle will not come in the form of rookie Zion Williamson who has yet to make his NBA rookie debut following knee surgery to repair his meniscus just before the season started. Still, team officials say they have been encouraged by signs of the forward’s progress and feel he could return after the New Year. 

For his teammates, a mix of youngsters and veterans that have made New Orleans appear as the Island of Misfit Toys, there could be a sense of dread as fears of another rotten performance in front of a nationally televised audience are possible. 

In the two teams’ previous matchup on Oct. 31, the Pelicans showed signs of turning their fortune around by gaining a decisive 122-107 win over a full-strength Nuggets team after starting on a four-game skid. Center Jahlil Okafor was the high point man in the game with 26 total, aggressively going after a lackluster defensive performance from Nikola Jokic. 

However, as the team tries to answer for injury bugs and youth growing pains, the lowest point of the season came in the form of a 13-game losing streak. 

Since Dec. 17, the team has turned in a 2-2 record. They experienced an overtime loss to a decent Brooklyn team and lost to a bad Warriors (7-24). Their wins have come against Minnesota and Portland who also happen to be teams that are significantly below .500 as well. 

In most Pelicans’ losses, a lack of cohesion seems to be an issue. Despite the fact that small forward Brandon Ingram is putting up historic numbers and gunning for the spot of a franchise cornerstone, the team is struggling to form balance around him. 

It’s hard to tell how much the Pelicans have improved in the past week. Portland shot and missed several 3-point attempts on Monday night that seemed to take the Blazers out of the game. They also relied on isolation play from a 35-year-old Carmelo Anthony primarily throughout the fourth quarter. Even with this in consideration, there seemed to be some improvement on the defensive end.

Rebounding, a facet of the game that seemed to be non-existant to every Pelican not named Kenrich Williams has improved in recent games. Specifically, it has improved with the return of center Derrick Favors. Along with his 12 points, Favors grabbed 13 rebounds, leading the team in the 102-94 win. While Ingram has been counted on as a primary scorer, he turned in a more balanced stat line in the Blazers win. Perhaps bigger than his 19 points was his 11 rebounds and 5 assists as he asserts himself as a player that can do more than score. 

Coach Alvin Gentry, who has had to face tough questions after several fourth-quarter collapses this season, will have to try to get his young players to build off of recently learned lessons to have a shot on the road in the Pepsi Center live on ESPN at 9:30 p.m.

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