Predicting Disney: New Orleans Pelicans
As we look toward basketball finally restarting in Disney, a team many NBA fans will be sure to follow closely is the New Orleans Pelicans. Led by youngsters Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram, the Pels were one of the league's most exciting teams and were just beginning their playoff push when the season was put on hold.
NBA conspiracy theorists will say that this entire restart format was set up in favor of the Pelicans and Zion Williamson in an attempt to get him more time on national TV. Their exceedingly soft eight-game schedule certainly puts them in great position to force a play-in for the eighth-seed in the stacked Western Conference.
If the five former Duke Blue Devils on the roster (Zion, Ingram, JJ Redick, Frank Jackson, and Jahlil Okafor) can embrace the simpler living conditions in Disney than they were given in college, then this Pelicans team should be ready to roll. In fact, as you'll see below, my money is on New Orleans making a statement in these first eight games back - setting up a spectacularly competitive play-in series against the Memphis Grizzlies for the last playoff spot out West.
Eight Game Schedule
July 30 vs. Utah Jazz: W
The Pelicans will come out of the gate rolling and earn a win in their first game against Utah. This young team should use the quarantine period to come back in peak shape, and the Pelicans won’t be messing around, with as much to gain during their time in Disney as any other invitee. The Jazz will be without scoring wing Bojan Bogdanovic and may struggle when guarding the Pels talented frontcourt. I predict New Orleans will win this one in a tough battle, getting off to a strong start in Orlando. 1-0.
August 1st vs. Los Angeles Clippers: L
This will be the Pels toughest game on the schedule, and one of thew few they will likely lose. regardless of their level of determination. Remember: the Clippers will be fighting to hold on to their position as the two-seed in the Western Conference, and are thus also likely to be coming out of the gate playing hard. New Orleans will put up a fight, but will be unable to close the chasm in talent and experience, falling to 1-1 after this game.
August 3rd vs. Memphis Grizzlies: W
This game will be must-watch TV for all NBA fans; not only does this game represent another chapter of the budding rivalry between Zion Williamson and Ja Morant, but this game will directly impact the race for the eight-seed out West more than any other. The Pelicans need to gain ground on Memphis, and a loss here might be too much for them to overcome in their efforts to realize a playoff push. New Orleans won’t be messing around this game and will improve to 2-1 in Orlando with a win.
August 6th vs. Sacramento Kings: W
Riding high off a win over Memphis, the Pels will continue rolling against one of the weakest teams at Disney. They will be well rested after having the previous two nights off to rejuvenate. Sacramento will also be playing with their already-slim playoff hopes on the line, so this definitely won’t be an easy win, but New Orleans needs this game more (in fact, the Kings could be mathematically eliminated by this point). The Pelicans should jump to 3-1 while essentially condemning the Kings to their 14th consecutive missed playoffs.
August 7th vs. Washington Wizards: W
On August 7th, New Orleans will be playing their first back-to-back in months. However, they were lucky enough to draw the Wizards with this game - with Bradley Beal and Davis Bertans choosing to pass on joining Washington in Disney, their leading scorer will likely be rookie Rui Hachimura. Even a tired Pels team should be able to handle the Washington Wizards in this one, moving to 4-1 in the bubble.
August 9th vs. San Antonio Spurs: W
This Spurs team comes to Disney without LaMarcus Aldridge and will likely struggle during the restart period. San Antonio’s unbelievable streak of 22 consecutive playoff appearances will be snapped this year, but poor Gregg Popovich won’t even get to enjoy an extended offseason for once, with an uber-quick turnaround to next season being discussed around the league. The Pels should handle their business again and stay hot with a 4th straight win. 5-1.
August 11th vs. Sacramento Kings: W
The Pels will take care of business in a rematch with the Kings and improve to 6-1 (!!!) in the bubble. This win would clinch a play-in for the eight-seed and create the exact sort of drama that Adam Silver has in mind. Sacramento will be playing with an eye toward the future, judging which players currently under contract are worthy of building around.
August 13th vs. Orlando Magic: W
The Pelicans will continue their dominance in Disney and beat the hometown Magic in their final regular season game. This game will likely have seeding/playoff implications for the Magic, but also may still matter for the Pels (especially if my earlier predictions prove to be bullish). New Orleans will win this game to move to 7-1 in the restart, but hopefully will be looking ahead to their looming play-in tournament for the Western Conference’s eight-seed.
Final Record: 35-37 (7-1 at Disney)
This near-perfect charge by the Pelicans should be more than enough to force a matchup with the Grizzlies for the West’s final playoff spot. The Pelicans are one of the league's most talented teams and will be a League Pass favorite when basketball returns. When New Orleans ends the regular season as one of the NBA’s hottest and most talked about teams, remember you heard it here first.