Monday, March 4, 2024
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New Orleans Pelicans: Zion Williamson’s Pelicans are a legit contender – For The Win

Welcome to Layup Lines, our basketball newsletter where we’ll prep you for a tip-off of tonight’s action, from what to watch to bets to make. Subscribe here to get it delivered to your inbox every afternoon
What’s happening, family? It’s Sykes, once again, with another edition of Layup Lines. Can we talk about the Pelicans for a sec?
The brutal beatdown the Boston Celtics gave the Phoenix Suns has left more questions than answers about the top of the Western Conference. The East seems to be the better conference this year.
But I think we should be looking at the Pelicans as a potential West juggernaut like the Celtics and the Bucks are in the East.
I know, I know. They haven’t really proven it to us yet. And they can’t, honestly. Not until the playoffs. They’re only 16-8 and somehow the No. 1 seed in the conference now. That record doesn’t exactly sound remarkable until you think about their circumstances.
Many teams have had some bad injury luck so far this season across the board. The Pelicans have not, generally speaking. Only 10 players have missed time so far and they’ve only missed 52 man games while injured, per Spotrac’s injury database. That’s near the bottom of the league.
However, when you look at the players who have been injured for them so far this season, the blows are significant. Their big 3 of CJ McCollum, Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram have missed a whopping 19 of those 52 games and counting. New Orleans’ lineups are totally inconsistent with only one lineup so far playing in at least 10 games and having over 100 minutes played together.
That’s not normally the mark of a contender. Yet, somehow, the Pelicans have the 2nd best net rating in the NBA just behind the Celtics at +6.9. That’s good — really good. And with better health for their stars, it can get better.
The fact that they’ve been able to stay afloat despite the inconsistencies from their big 3 speaks to their depth and the rest of their cast. Jonas Valanciunas is an absolute rock who doesn’t miss games and consistently produces. Trey Murphy III has emerged as a legitimate 3-and-D wing and has also flashed All-Star potential this year. Jose Alvarado is one of the best backup point options in the NBA. Herb Jones is still elite defensively when he plays.
The Pelicans can legitimately go 10 deep when they want to and there aren’t too many teams across the league that can say that. The Celtics might actually be the only one.
It’s too early to say what the Pelicans’ ceiling actually looks like or whether they’re actually a Finals contender. But through this quarter of the season, there’s no question that they look like the real deal.
Some NBA goodness from around the USA TODAY Sports network.
 (Photo by SUZANNE CORDEIRO/AFP via Getty Images)
In WNBA news, Brittney Griner is finally home after being wrongfully detained in Russia for essentially 10 months. Russia finally agreed to a proposed prisoner swap from the U.S. in which Griner came back for Viktor Bout, who is a war merchant.
Yesterday, I wrote about the cost of the swap and how dangerous it was for Bout to be free again. He’s a very dangerous man.
“Mr. Bout was accused of selling weapons to Al Qaeda, the Taliban and militants in Rwanda. According to several investigations and his U.S. indictment, he and his associates flouted arms embargoes in Sierra Leone, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Algeria, where he sold weapons to both the government forces and the rebels fighting them.”
But here’s the deal. An American woman who was wrongfully detained and imprisoned in a penal colony has been returned home. And, at the end of it all, that’s all that really matters.
(All odds via Tipico.)
Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports 
Pelicans (+1.5) vs. Suns (-1.5, -119), O/U 227.5, 8:30 PM ET
Speaking of the Pelicans and Suns, the two sides are actually matched up on Friday night. This is going to be for the top seed in the West and could be a potential tiebreaker game when the end of the season rolls around.
There’s a lot at stake here. Chris Paul is back for Phoenix, but both Brandon Ingram and Herb Jones are out in New Orleans. I think the Pelicans will ultimately be better, but tonight give me the Suns -1.5.
— Watch the precious moment Cherelle Griner found out Brittney was safe and sound
Lonzo Ball is a funny dude. Who knew?
— Jordan Poole has no time for your bets.
— The best photos from the season so far
Enjoy the weekend, folks!
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