Nuggets' Western Conference foe loses key star to injury

New York Knicks v Denver Nuggets
New York Knicks v Denver Nuggets / Matthew Stockman/GettyImages

The Nuggets appear to be the clear-cut favorite to win the Western Conference, but there are several feisty contenders in a deep West. The Thunder, Timberwolves, and Clippers have been the established top four for most of the year.

But the team right on the heels of the four seed has been playing some of the best basketball of any team in the league lately, the New Orleans Pelicans. The Pels have quietly but consistently been improving and climbing up the standings, winning eight of their last 10.

They now boast a top 10-rated offense and defense, along with just the Celtics, Thunder, and Nuggets. They also have the fourth-best net rating in the entire league, trailing only the Celtics, Thunder, and Timberwolves, and one spot ahead of the Nuggets.

Tough injury news for a star

But the Pelicans were dealt a tough blow the other night as one of their stars, Brandon Ingram left their game with the Magic due to a knee injury. Ingram got an MRI which revealed a bone contusion in his left knee. He’ll be re-evaluated in two weeks.

While it’s great news that Ingram seems to have avoided serious injury, it’s not ideal timing for the Pelicans as the playoffs loom less than a month from now. The two-week timetable also is just for re-evaluation, the actual time for return could be much longer. 

And even when Ingram is healthy enough to return, it may take some time to get him up to speed and conditioned for his usual workload - especially in a playoff atmosphere. They’ll hope to tread water without Ingram and hope that he can return with some time to ramp up at the end of the regular season.

Replacing Ingram

He’s been having one of his best seasons in the NBA. He’s played in 63 games and averaged 20.9 points, 5.1 rebounds, and 5.8 assists per game. Ingram has improved as a playmaker and a defender, and that has had a direct impact on winning.

The Pelicans have a very deep team and they’ll have plenty of options to replace his production in the short term. But it’s hard to replace Ingram’s shot creation and mastery of the midrange. He has the size and length to take and make difficult shots, finding space out of thin air in a way that not many players in the league can replicate.

I would imagine we’ll see even more ball-handling duties for Zion Williamson and CJ McCollum, and more playing time and volume for guys like Herb Jones and Trey Murphy.