The only way to realistically make a late playoff charge is by winning the games one is supposed to, and the New Orleans Pelicans did just that Sunday.
New Orleans defeated the Golden State Warriors 115-101 at Chase Center to move to 25-32 on the campaign. Jrue Holiday and Zion Williamson spearheaded the effort, helping their team improve to an impressive 5-1 in the last six games with a second straight win.
As for the Warriors, they are simply playing out the string at this point and dropped to 12-45 with a sixth consecutive loss.
Notable Player Stats
- NO G Jrue Holiday: 23 points, 15 assists and seven rebounds
- NO F Zion Williamson: 28 points and seven rebounds
- NO F Brandon Ingram: 17 points, five assists and four rebounds
- NO F Nicolo Melli: 20 points and five rebounds on 6-of-7 from three-point range
- GS G Damion Lee: 22 points, four rebounds and four assists
- GS G Jordan Poole: 19 points, five assists and five rebounds
Zion's Performance Hints at Pelicans' Potential as a Playoff Team
Williamson wasted no time dazzling in Sunday's win.
He threw down multiple alley-oop lobs from Holiday, scored a layup off an assist from Lonzo Ball and unleashed a jab-step three-pointer all in the opening six minutes. He continued with a monster one-handed slam on the break in the third quarter and a number of impressive post moves and finishes inside the paint.
Sunday was just Williamson's 12th game of his career, and he already looks like a 10-year veteran for stretches.
While the aerial acrobatics many expected are there, he has displayed some outside touch with his shot and an understanding of space to take advantage of openings created by playing alongside Brandon Ingram and Holiday. Ball and Holiday are such capable passers that even being in the right spot will help Zion maximize his potential.
He is far from a one-man show, though, as Ingram is a go-to scorer who can hit from deep and attack the lane, Holiday is a floor general and veteran leader who knows when to score or facilitate, and JJ Redick and Nicolo Melli are sharpshooters who can capitalize on Holiday's passing.
New Orleans entered play four games behind the Memphis Grizzlies for the No. 8 seed and is also jockeying with the Portland Trail Blazers, San Antonio Spurs and Sacramento Kings in the Western Conference race.
The Pelicans have just 25 games remaining in the regular season, but their ceiling is a team that can challenge one of the Western Conference's top squads come playoff time. They have talent at every level, and Williamson's presence as a dominating playmaker prevents opponents from homing in on Ingram and Holiday.
They have to clean up a defensive rating that is 23rd in the league, per NBA.com, but there is no doubt they can compete in a playoff series if Williamson plays like he did Sunday.
They just have to get there first.
Both teams are in action Tuesday when the Warriors host the Sacramento Kings and the Pelicans are at the Los Angeles Lakers.