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Are The Pelicans Peaking At The Right Time For A Deep Playoff Run?

New Orleans has the ingredients to be a serious contender in the West, but can the Pelicans put it all together in the playoffs?

New Orleans, LA - The New Orleans Pelicans are playing some of their best basketball of the season. They sit at No. 5 in the Western Conference standings, have the longest win streak currently in the NBA, and are tied for the most road wins in the league. With less than 20 games remaining in the regular season, the Pelicans are peeking at the right time. Health and better play from the top players on the team have contributed to success. 

New Orleans began the year with Trey Murphy III missing the first 19 games of the season, recovering from a meniscus injury suffered during the offseason. The Pelicans went 10-9 during that stretch and missed Trey's outside shooting prowess. The team ranked No. 18 in three-point percentage (35.5%) and 25th in three-point attempts (30.9) in his absence. When Murphy III returned to the lineup, he struggled to get his shot up to his lofty standards.

Zion Williamson

During January, Murphy shot just 29.5% from beyond the arc and only 37.8% from the field. Post All-Star break, he's been on an absolute tear, shooting 41.8% from deep and averaging 22.8 points off the bench in his last six games. New Orleans is 5-1 in those games and are 11-0 in their last 11 games when Murphy III makes four of more three-point shots. The rise of Zion Williamson to peak performance has elevated New Orleans to contenders in the minds of some prognosticators.

Williamson was criticized by some earlier in the year for being out of shape. Hall of Famers Shaquille O'Neal and Charles Barkley publicly called out Zion's conditioning and commitment. ESPN's Stephen A. Smith made disparaging comments about Williamson's diet that caused the Pelicans social media team to retaliate on social media in defense of Williamson. Zion didn't publicly make any statements about Smith's comments, but his game has done plenty of talking recently. 

The former No. 1 overall pick in 2019 has been a master of all trades recently for the Pelicans. Aside from Williamson averaging 22.3 points in his last ten games, he's also recorded two blocks in half of those games and at least seven assists in seven contests. His seven blocks over the last three games are the most of any three-game span in his career. We're consistently seeing the highlight-making plays on a daily game basis that he showed in his one-and-done year at Duke. Pelicans coach Willie Green thinks we are close to getting peak Zion on the court.

“He (Zion) looks great,” Coach Green said recently. “He’s moving well. Getting up and down the floor. We like where he is right now.” Coach Green should also like where his team is now. New Orleans's 14 games over .500 is the best mark since the 2018-2019. The most exciting part for the team and fans is they are playing their best basketball heading into the playoffs.

New Orleans is one of four teams in the NBA that are Top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency. Over the last 15 games, they lead the NBA in defensive rating and steals, while being second in net rating, only behind the Boston Celtics, who have the best record in the NBA. The Pelicans are top five in the NBA in three-point shooting percentage, with guard CJ McCollum leading the league in three-point percentage (41.7) among all players who attempt at least eight threes per game. New Orleans is No. 1 in opponent three-point percentage.

The Pelicans have a First-Team defense-caliber player in Herb Jones, a dynamic scorer in Brandon Ingram, and one of the deepest benches in the NBA. Can a franchise that hasn't been past the second round of the playoffs in its history compete for a championship this season? The playoffs start next month, so that question will be answered then. For now, the Pelicans look to play their best basketball for as long as they can.