Three massive questions dealing with the Pelicans with Zion Williamson nonetheless out

On Dec. 30, the New Orleans Pelicans have been 23-12 and tied for first place within the Western Conference. Just a month and a half later, heading out of the All-Star break, the Pelicans are 30-29 and within the thick of the center of the West standings.

What occurred? Well, two major culprits are largely answerable for all these losses: Zion Williamson’s proper hamstring and Brandon Ingram’s left massive toe.

Ingram injured the toe towards the Memphis Grizzlies on Nov. 25 and the Pelicans fell to 11-8 that evening. However, after that, Williamson put the staff on his shoulders, averaging 29.3 factors, 7.6 rebounds and 5.4 assists over the following 15 video games he performed (he missed three video games throughout this stretch due to well being and security protocols).

Then on Jan. 2, Williamson harm his proper hamstring. The Pelicans fell to 23-14 that evening, and by the point Ingram returned on Jan. 25, the Pelicans have been 26-23. The staff misplaced their subsequent 4 to cap off a 10-game dropping streak earlier than discovering some footing to climb again above .500 forward of the break.

The Pelicans confronted the hardest schedule within the league in January, they usually have been pressured to take action for a lot of the month with out their prime two gamers. Ingram is again, however now Williamson is ready to overlook “multiple weeks” due to a reaggravation of his hamstring damage.

How will that influence the Pelicans’ playoff push? Here are three massive questions dealing with New Orleans because the staff will get set to open the second half with a go to north of the border to face the Toronto Raptors (Thursday, 7:30 p.m. ET).

1. When can we anticipate to see Williamson again on the court docket?

When Williamson suffered the proper hamstring pressure towards the Philadelphia 76ers on Jan. 2, his unique timeline mentioned he can be reevaluated in three weeks. At that mark, Williamson was making what the staff decided to be “good progress with his recovery” and an additional analysis would are available two weeks.

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Williamson had progressed to taking part in 3-on-3 and had an outdoor likelihood of creating an look earlier than the All-Star break, however he reaggravated the damage throughout a 3-on-3 session roughly 5 weeks after struggling the preliminary damage.

Speaking to reporters on Feb. 12, Pelicans govt vice chairman of basketball operations David Griffin mentioned: “I think we’re looking at multiple weeks past the All-Star break that he’ll be back.”

Griffin provided no additional touch upon what precisely “multiple weeks” seems like, however he did say the staff plans on reevaluating Williamson as soon as everybody returns from the All-Star break this week.

If Williamson recovers on the identical timeline as was projected with the preliminary damage, his return would come someday in mid-March, though it is potential he comes again sooner.

Still, that is the third time in 4 seasons that Williamson has missed prolonged time. He was sidelined for what would have been the primary 44 video games of his rookie season due to a torn meniscus suffered within the preseason, then missed the complete 2021-22 season due to a foot damage.

Ideally, the Pelicans want to get Williamson as a lot time on the court docket as potential with Ingram and CJ McCollum earlier than the staff gears up for the playoffs or the play-in match.

The trio has not performed collectively a lot since McCollum was acquired on the commerce deadline final season. Williamson, Ingram and McCollum have performed simply 10 video games collectively, all this season, sharing the court docket for a mixed 172 minutes. The Pelicans are plus-60 in these minutes and scoring 120.9 factors per 100 possessions and giving up 104.4 factors per 100 possessions.

2. How do the Pelicans keep afloat till then?

New Orleans was in the same scenario final season. After buying McCollum on the commerce deadline, it was clear the Pelicans have been going to make a push for the play-in match, even with Williamson sidelined.

Ingram missed 13 of the ultimate 18 regular-season video games due to damage, however McCollum & Co. willed the Pelicans into the play-in match, by which they defeated the San Antonio Spurs and LA Clippers to assert the No. 8 seed.

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This season, McCollum should not have to hold the load by himself once more, as Ingram has began to appear like his previous self. In his final six video games, the previous All-Star is averaging 29.2 factors, 4.8 assists and 4.7 rebounds whereas taking pictures 54.0% total and 43.8% from deep. It’s the primary time in his profession he is scored at the least 25 factors in six consecutive video games, and he was one missed discipline aim in his sixth sport from taking pictures at the least 50% from the sphere in all of them.

At 30-29, the Pelicans are seventh within the West. But with third place (Sacramento) and thirteenth place (Los Angeles Lakers) separated by simply six video games, something can occur over the ultimate leg of the season.

The Pelicans are three video games behind the Kings and three video games up on the Lakers. They are simply two video games away from the fourth-seeded Clippers, and attending to that No. 4 spot would give them home-court benefit within the first spherical of the playoffs. But on the opposite finish of the spectrum, New Orleans is simply 1.5 video games up on eleventh place — which might put the Pelicans out of the play-in match.

To be sure that they’re on the proper facet of the play-in, the Pelicans must discover their offensive id. When Williamson was injured on Jan. 2, the Pelicans had the eighth-best offensive ranking within the league at 114.7. In the six-week stretch with Williamson out, the Pelicans ranked simply twenty second at 111.9.

New Orleans has maintained a top-10 protection within the league, and if the offense can catch again up, there’s a greater likelihood of righting the ship earlier than Williamson returns.

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3. Does their schedule make issues simpler on them?

The good factor for New Orleans is the schedule turns into so much simpler for the ultimate 23 regular-season video games.

Based strictly on opponent successful share, the Pelicans have the third-easiest schedule remaining within the league behind solely the lottery-bound Detroit Pistons and Dallas Mavericks, who — just like the Pelicans — are competing for a top-six spot within the West and who’ve three video games remaining towards the 14-47 Spurs.

ESPN Analytics’ power of schedule metric, which takes under consideration the opponent, whether or not the sport is residence or on the street and back-to-backs, provides the Pelicans the third-easiest schedule within the West, behind the Mavericks and Lakers.

New Orleans has already accomplished its season collection towards the Phoenix Suns, and avoids the new-look model with Kevin Durant. The Pelicans have two video games left towards Golden State however may catch the Warriors with out Stephen Curry for the primary matchup.

The Pelicans even have 5 video games left towards groups within the backside of the league standings in Houston (twice), San Antonio, Charlotte and Orlando. Four of these are available a four-game stretch from March 17 to 23, for which Williamson ought to be again. The Pelicans have solely 10 video games remaining towards groups at present above .500. While 5 of these video games make up the Pelicans’ closing stretch, New Orleans does get a four-game homestand to open April earlier than touring to Minnesota for the regular-season finale.

If New Orleans can deal with its enterprise towards groups underneath .500 and get Williamson again shortly, the Pelicans ought to be in good place to make consecutive postseason appearances for the primary time since 2008 and 2009.