The New Orleans Pelicans have gotten pretty lucky when it comes to injuries this year. I mean, you don’t want to see players like Anthony Davis or Tyreke Evans miss any time at all if you can avoid it, but for the Pelicans , they were lucky enough to see both players return faster than anyone would have thought. First, Evans, who was presumed to be out for up to two weeks, barely missed anytime at all. Then, Davis, who was estimated to be sidelined for four to six weeks, returned to the lineup on Wednesday, only 17 days after his hand injury against the New York Knicks. While the Pelicans were defeated by the Los Angeles Clippers in Davis’ return, having him back in the lineup certainly bodes well for the future.
So, what does the return of Davis mean for the Pelicans? Well, to get the obvious out of the way it means they have a really, really, ridiculously talented big man back in the lineup. Davis currently has the fourth highest PER in the league and leads the NBA in blocks per game. After a promising rookie year in which he played well by any reasonable measure, but still felt underwhelming thanks to the insane expectations placed on him, Davis has been unstoppable in his sophomore season and it looks like the Pelicans have the centerpiece of their franchise going forward. When Davis went down, it looked like the Pelicans would have to tread water in order to stay alive in the playoff hunt, but that fear is no more. They have every relevant player healthy and are ready to compete for one of the final playoff spots in the Western Conference.
The early return of Davis is huge for the Pelicans because it gives them an enormous advantage over their division rival, the Memphis Grizzlies. The Grizzlies also lost their star player, Marc Gasol, early in the year and ever since, they’ve been trying to remain near .500 without him. It hasn’t worked out. Their grit-n-grind approach has looked limp without the reigning Defensive Player Of The Year around. Now, the Pelicans have taken the fourth spot in Southwest Division, while the Grizzlies are wallowing in the basement. The Pelicans have gotten their superstar back while the Grizzlies are hoping Marc Gasol somehow heals faster than expected. The window between now and Gasol’s return will allow the Pelicans to further distance themselves from the Grizzlies and effectively eliminate them as a threat to their playoff hopes.
When the injury to Davis occurred, it looked as though it might submarine the playoff chances of a likable young team. Instead, his quick recovery will all but ensure that this team remains competitive for the remainder of the year. They have a ridiculous talent in Davis and a supporting cast of quality shooters (Eric Gordon, Ryan Anderson, Jrue Holiday), and there’s no reason to think the Pelicans can’t give the likes of the Mavericks and Timberwolves a serious challenge when the playoff push begins.