By Wyatt Vaughn
With storms circling the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans Wednesday night, the Pelicans, led by star power forward Anthony Davis, looked to squash a painful six game skid. If there was ever a night to do it, tonight was that night as the struggling Chicago Bulls came to town with just a 3-8 record and with six of their players inactive. The Pelicans would also get Anthony Davis back after sitting out three straight to help heal an elbow injury. Arguably one of the best players in the league, Anthony’s return back to the starting lineup against a struggling team hoped to be critical in posting their 5th W.
The biggest problem the Pelicans had going into the game was injury related. In addition to Anthony Davis, many fans forget about the ankle sprain to the still questionable (game by game) Elfrid Payton, a key part of their success during the first four games. But combined, the Pelicans were no match for teams like the Denver Nuggets and Portland Trail Blazers. Though no one will say it, Elfrid Payton’s injury hurt the Pels almost as much as the Brow. AD’s return to the starting lineup is also huge for team confidence and overall skill. Tonight was an especially big matchup for the big man as he was matched up against Bull’s rookie center, Wendell Carter Jr. who proved to be no match for Davis. Davis logged 32 points and 15 rebounds in total. At 30 points and 10 rebounds though, a silence came on the Center, as Davis caught an elbow in the eye, sending him to the floor and locker room. While the crowd was eerily anxious, the team never flinched, increasing the lead from 13 to 17 while Davis was tended to. Davis returned halfway into the final period.
Not only were the Pelicans riddled with injuries in the six losing efforts, but they were also away from the Smoothie King Center in five of the six games, playing with no home court support. On top of all of that, the schedule even got tougher than before, pitting the Pels against five playoff teams, with four of them on the road. Considering that in the first four games of the season they only played one playoff team, the schedule really flipped quite quickly on the Pels. Considering the lack of depth, with two of their starters out for most of the games, the Pelicans had already had a tough enough challenge in that road stretch.
The Pels defense has been lackluster the entire season, even prior to the six game losing streak. Coming into tonight’s game they hadn’t allowed less than 109 points in any of the 10 games. This tanked their defensive rating to an embarrassing 4th worst in the entire league. The reason for the dramatic shift in this game is that the Bulls have been terrible offensively so far this year, setting the stage for the Pelicans to build some defensive confidence. The Bulls came into the game with the 22nd best scoring offense.
All of these things contributed to what ended up being a much needed win for the Pelicans. Despite dominating for most of the game, and after the Davis injury, the Bulls made a game of it in the fourth quarter, but it was too little too late for them. A healthy AD proved to be a big difference in this game as the big man finished with 32 points and 15 rebounds. Other than Davis, the Pelicans shot just 41% from the field. This could prove to be a problem when the Pelicans face tougher opponents. The home court advantage also seemed to be a factor as the team came out with much more energy than in the past games, most likely due to the crowd. The defense for the Pelicans came up big tonight holding the Bulls to just 98 points and a 39% shooting percentage. But even better for the defense, they held the Bulls to just 29% from downtown, which is nine percentage points down from their defensive season average. Next up on the Pelicans schedule is the also struggling Phoenix Suns (2-8) at home on November 10th.