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Overreaction Wednesday: It's Very Possible We'll Look Back At The Pelicans' Win Over The Mavs As The Moment They Cemented Themselves As Title Contenders

Sean Gardner. Getty Images.

Your taint typically shouldn’t be tickled by a regular-season victory — much less in Game 3 of 82 — but in the curious, compelling case of the New Orleans Pelicans, I’d be getting more than a little switched on if I were them after Tuesday night.

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While they did have home-court advantage on their side, the Pels were without Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram and second-year defensive phenom Herb Jones. They still knocked off the Mavs despite Luka Doncic posting a 37-11-8 line.

Sure, Luka missed 11 of 13 shots from beyond the arc and even a marginally better night at the 3-point line would’ve likely meant a Dallas win. That’s why they play the game. It was clear from the opening tip they were not hanging their heads, or feeling sorry for themselves for being shorthanded. All business. Dallas was not even close to ready.

What’s most encouraging for New Orleans is, this was an extraordinarily balanced effort. Eight of the nine players who hit the hardwood for the hosts scored in double figures, led by an 8-for-8 shooting effort by Trey Murphy III. His real name is Kenneth. I respect going with “Trey The Third” as your stage name. I respect Murphy’s game even more. 

Whatever edge the Pels gained with Murphy’s perfect night got offset by CJ McCollum’s uncharacteristically imprecise 6-for-20 effort from the floor. Are you starting to believe yet?

DAMNIT, SKIP BAYLESS SHUT UP I DON'T WANNA BE IN CAHOOTS WITH YOU ON THIS PELS WAGON!

Regardless, irregardless, regardless of whether or not I regard Skip's opinion with any regard…

Giphy Images.

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…I feel suited to blog about this potential watershed moment in New Orleans’ season because I followed them quite closely down the stretch of the last NBA season and into the playoffs, and did my fair share of Memphis Grizzlies coverage. Why do I bring the Grizz up? Because Memphis somehow defied all explanation by going 20-5 without Ja Morant in the lineup. That only got them to the conference semifinals.

Why do I think THIS could be different? Well, first of all, may I point out the Pels started last season 1-12 before rallying their way to relevance? Circling back to the Grizzlies, though: Memphis has Ja and a bunch of…not "no-name players", but not hella All-Stars all over the place either.

When you analyze at all the recent championship squads, it’s often a “Big 3” of players leading the charge. LeBron-DWade-Bosh for the Heat. Duncan-Parker-Ginobili for the Spurs. Steph-Klay-Dray [and KD] for the Warriors. LeBron-Kyrie-Love for the Cavs. Giannis-Middleton-Holiday for the Bucks. You could argue the Kawhi Raptors were an outlier, yet they had a veteran floor general in Kyle Lowry, a seasoned frontcourt of Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka playing key roles, along with a rising stud in Pascal Siakam who put up almost 20 points per night in the 2019 Finals.

That’s a roundabout way of working to this: Who is the Grizzlies’ Big 3? Ja, Desmond Bane and…Dillon Brooks? Uh, OK. How about the reigning No. 1 West seed Suns, who New Orleans pushed to six games in the first round of the playoffs sans Zion? A waning, inconsistent CP3, Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton? Meh.

Other than Golden State, whose threesome in the West is going to fuck with the Pels’ triumvirate of Zion, BI and CJ, with this type of depth behind them? 

I suppose if you trust Nikola Jokic's sidekicks Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr., you could make an argument for Denver. Then again, the Nuggets feel like everyone's trendy title pick, which is reflected in their current +1600 odds — almost half of New Orleans (+3300). That almost always means you're doomed. I feel like many, many folks are sleeping on the Pelicans, or I guess are waiting to see Zion sustain his health before passing firmer judgment.

Let's keep going down the line for the Pels. Larry Nance Jr. is a fine rotational player who's like a hybrid 3/stretch 4. Reserve guard Jose Alvarado played key minutes in that six-game series against the Suns and continues to progress. Hell, even rookie lottery pick Dyson Daniels casually pulled up off the bench for 11 points. He’s 19 and wasn’t even in the rotation. Not really outlandish to say he carves out a bigger role as the season moves along, if Murphy's impressed assessment carries any weight.

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If Daniels is, like, you're 12th man…OK. Pretty good.

Yes, I’m fully invested and trying to will the Pelicans to a championship, because I have a +4000 ticket on them to win the Finals. Those odds already dropped to +3300. They're still tied with the Lakers and rank eighth in that regard among Western Conference teams.

Giphy Images.

Really? The Pels as an implied borderline play-in team and no better than the freaking Lakers? Come on (sorry, PatBev).

Better to have these injury scares with Zion, Ingram and Jones very, very early on as opposed to later, I suppose. You hate to see it. However, these are the sort of silver lining situations that arise. You take on an accomplished core of a team in the Mavs who are known for their lockdown defense, and you find a way to shoot 57.9% as a group even when your clear go-to scorer for the evening in McCollum isn't knocking his shot down like he usually does.

Just saying. Keep your eye on these Pelicans. At least in this blogger's opinion, they are officially, certifiably Halloween-scary.

Twitter @MattFitz_gerald/TikTok

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