Pelicans’ health concerns looming ahead of Thursday’s home matchup vs Spurs

The Pelicans’ “Big Threesy” have only appeared together on the court for 10 games this season
New Orleans Pelicans' Zion Williamson (1) and San Antonio Spurs' Jeremy Sochan chase the ball...
New Orleans Pelicans' Zion Williamson (1) and San Antonio Spurs' Jeremy Sochan chase the ball during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2022, in San Antonio. (AP Photo/Darren Abate)(Darren Abate | AP)
Published: Dec. 22, 2022 at 8:55 AM CST|Updated: Dec. 22, 2022 at 9:41 AM CST
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - The 18-12 Pelicans will be shorthanded Thursday (Dec. 22) night when they take on the San Antonio Spurs (10-20) at 7 p.m. as their two biggest stars will be sidelined with health concerns.

Brandon Ingram will miss his twelfth straight against the Spurs and will be out again on Friday on the road in OKC with a left toe contusion. On Wednesday (Dec. 21), the Pelicans also announced that Zion Williamson has been placed in league-mandated COVID-19 health and safety protocols.

After a hot 7-game win streak, the Pelicans have followed it by dropping four straight losses. Despite recent struggles, the Pels are still at No. 3 in the Western Conference, just a half-game behind Memphis, and Denver holds the top spot by one whole game.

Even though the Pelicans experienced their best start in franchise history, health, just as it’s been an issue in the past, has been an issue for them throughout this season, which is over a quarter of the way over.

As good as the season start has been, head coach Willie Green has had to shuffle various starting lineups on a weekly and almost nightly basis according to who is available to play. Both Ingram and Williamson missed early games due to injuries. Lately, Williamson has appeared healthy but his current campaign is now on pause due to Covid protocols. The Pelicans’ “Big Threesy” of players, which includes Ingram, Williamson, and McCollum, have only appeared together on the court for 10 games this season. McCollum also missed significant stretches this season with the flu and Covid.

When the Big Threesy is available to play at the same time, those lineups are the most successful.

Without Ingram, Williamson was tapped for a heavier workload and the team ran everything through him, prompting his averages to jump up to 28.6 ppg, 8.5 rpg, 6 assists, 1.5 steals, and 1 block per game while shooting 63.5 percent from the field during this month’s stretch of winning. The revamped Zion-centric schemes launched Williamson into the conversation of early MVP candidates.

Although Ingram missed every game of the 7-game win streak, his presence was sorely missed when they lost the next four. Williamson is still producing MVP-type numbers with his overall averages at 25.2 ppg, 7.2 rpg, 4.7 assists, and 1.2 steal while shooting 60 percent with Ingram out but there has to be concern over the physical toll it takes to carry such a workload. With no Ingram, opponents will continue to build walls in order to defend the paint as much as they can from Williamson and it puts pressure on the supporting cast to have to be efficient knocking down shots from outside every night.

The Pelicans miss a playmaker like Ingram that can pull up from any spot on the floor and force defenders to come out of zones. When healthy, Ingram and Zion are one of the better 1-2 punches in the NBA and it also gives Green an opportunity to stagger their minutes and have a star on the floor for the majority of the game.

Fortunately for the Pelicans on Thursday, the Spurs are at the bottom of the West’s standings and appear to be aiming for draft lottery consideration. McCollum and starting center Jonas Valanciunas, who is putting up All-Star numbers with averages of 13.7 ppg and 9.3 rebounds while shooting 53.2 percent from the field and 40 percent from 3-pt range, are available tonight.

Back in October, the Pelicans got a win over Dallas with no Ingram and Williamson. The Pels rolled out a balanced offensive attack that featured eight players scoring in double figures led by Trey Murphy III with 22 points on a perfect shooting night, sinking 8-of-8 from the field and 4-of-4 from 3-pt. On that night, Naji Marshall and Jose Alvarado started in place of Ingram and Williamson.

The good news for the Pelicans Thursday night against the Spurs is that there’s no Luka Doncic-level player dressing out in black, white, and grey.

Injury report

Larry Nance Jr. - F - questionable (Achillies)

Zion Williamson - F- out (health & safety protocols)

Brandon Ingram - F - out (left toe)

E.J. Liddell - F - out (knee)

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