THE Pelicans played to potential in their match against the Sixers yesterday. They took the lead on their first attempt 14 seconds into the first quarter, built it to double digits three and a half minutes later, and never relinquished it en route to their sixth victory in the last nine outings. Needless to say, they benefited from the return of starting guard C.J. McCollum; his recovery from a partially collapsed lung enabled them to compete with a full complement for the first time since the first week of November, and it showed in their fluidity on offense.
The fact that the Sixers did not have Joel Embiid certainly hurt their cause. The National Basketball Association’s leading scorer and reigning Most Valuable Player was a late scratch due to an illness, severely handicapping them on both sides of the court. Erstwhile revelation Tyrese Maxey did all he could — but perhaps too much; he had only three assists in 38 minutes on the court, not quite the output they needed from their primary ball handler and playmaker.
The Pelicans rightly capitalized on Embiid’s absence. Zion Williamson proved particularly effective, finishing with a near-flawless stat line of 33 points on 11 of 12 shooting from both the field and the charity stripe. It bears noting that his single miss recorded in the books as a block by defender Mo Bamba actually appeared to be a turnover; he seemed to simply lose the ball as he drove to the basket in the first play of the fourth quarter. In any case, he ruled the paint with impunity while likewise showing remarkable self-restraint; his six dimes extended his 25-and-five streak to six outings.
The Pelicans have a favorable schedule in the next three weeks. They’ll be meeting opponents with losing records in six of their next eight set-tos, which means they have the opportunity to move up significantly from their eighth-place standing in the West. Meanwhile, they stand to further shore up their cohesiveness; their 2023-24 campaign depends on how far Williamson, McCollum, and leading scorer Brandon Ingram can take them. In short, they figure to get better and, assuming they stay healthy, in the thick of things once the playoffs arrive.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is a consultant on strategic planning, operations and human resources management, corporate communications, and business development.