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It’s time to add the New Orleans Pelicans to the list of legitimate title contenders

Heading into the season, two questions hung over the Pelicans like Original Nightmare Pierre preparing to dive-bomb upon you and feast on your soul.

One: Would a New Orleans roster 메이저놀이터 that developed a playoff-caliber identity in Zion Williamson’s absence be able to seamlessly adjust to his presence after his long-awaited return from injury? And two: Could a squad that surprisingly fielded an above-average defense over the final five months of 2021-22 take another step forward with several shaky stoppers, including Williamson, in line for major minutes?

There’s a long way to go, but after they swept a two-game set against the Suns over the weekend — and did so in style, leading to some fireworks — it sure looks like the Pelicans have answered both of those questions with a resounding, “Hell, yeah.” Which, in turn, raises a new question: Rather than a potential “team of the future,” is New Orleans a title contender right now?

The Pelicans enter Tuesday’s meeting with Utah on a seven-game heater that has them atop the Western Conference at 18-8. They feature one of the league’s most devastating offenses, ranking fifth in the NBA in points scored per possession — even with four starters missing at least a handful of games, even though injuries have limited the expected big three of Williamson, Brandon Ingram and C.J. McCollum to just 172 minutes together, and even though only the Bulls and Hawks take a smaller share of their shots from 3-point range. (The 3-point rate ticks up a bit when Jose Alvarado — 39% from deep for the season; yes, he can shoot — and Larry Nance Jr. check in, helming a second unit that has been blowing opponents’ doors off.)

How do you dominate offensively without shooting a bunch of 3s? Well, one good way is to relentlessly battering-ram your way to the rim and finish at an extremely high level once you get there. Luckily, New Orleans has a guy for that:

While watching Williamson repeatedly bulldoze his way to the cup, you might’ve noticed that, wherever he is on the floor and whichever way he starts moving, the southpaw just about always eventually gets back to his dominant left hand.

You are not the only one to notice it! NBA teams are aware, too. But while knowing is half the battle, it’s the other half — doing a damn thing about it — that has proven awfully difficult.