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CJ McCollum #3 of the New Orleans Pelicans passes the ball during the game against the Orlando Magic on Jan. 20.

Pelicans shootaround update: CJ McCollum dealing with thumb injury, but remains in lineup

As February comes to a close, New Orleans is in a position where it needs to make several adjustments to change the current direction of its season, including trying to get out to better starts, clamping down more aggressively on defense and executing more efficiently on offense. For Pelicans guard CJ McCollum, one recent adjustment he’s already tried to make is playing through a thumb injury that’s bothered him on the court. How much so? Well, the 10-year NBA veteran said after Monday’s morning shootaround that it is causing restrictions for him in all areas, including “catching, dribbling, passing and shooting. Everything is a little bit more difficult. But it is what it is.” The 31-year-old added of the issue that it is “not ideal. But I’m playing, so I’ve got to be better and I will be better. I understand what’s at stake for us, and what’s at stake for seeding. How these next few games are going to define our season.”

CJ McCollum | Pelicans-Magic Shootaround 2/27/2023

New Orleans is in a precarious place in the Western Conference standings, with a play-in spot no longer a lock, given that three teams (No. 11-13 Portland, LA Lakers, Oklahoma City) are all within 1.5 games or less of the 10th-place Pelicans. Coincidentally, each of those clubs come to the Smoothie King Center over a four-day span next month (March 11-14). As McCollum referenced, prior to then, New Orleans has a chance to put itself on more solid ground, starting with Monday’s home game vs. Orlando (7 p.m., Bally Sports, WRNO 99.5 FM), then a three-game West road trip that also features a pair of important opponents standings-wise (at Portland on Wednesday, then at Golden State on Friday).

Other notes:

With his new team having only played road games since Feb. 13, Pelicans trade addition Josh Richardson still has not suited up for a home game yet. He’s looking forward to the opportunity to get acclimated to the venue Monday. “It should be interesting,” Richardson said. “I was in street clothes for the first one (Feb. 10 vs. Cleveland, due to his trade not being officially finalized). Just being able to play in front of the home fans should be fun.” Richardson noted that in 2022 he was traded in-season to San Antonio during the Spurs’ lengthy “Rodeo Trip,” similar to his initial experience with New Orleans.

Josh Richardson | Pelicans-Magic Shootaround 2/27/2023

Orlando Scouting Report

Offensive efficiency rank: 25 (111.2)

Defensive efficiency rank: 17 (113.8)

Net rating: 26 (-2.6)

Streak: Lost 1

Go-to guy: Paolo Banchero was the rare “surprise” No. 1 overall pick during the 2022 NBA Draft, after reports circulated widely that Orlando was going to select Jabari Smith (who ended up being chosen two spots later by Houston). Banchero is also the rare NBA rookie who’s immediately ready to step in as the No. 1 threat for an offensive attack, averaging a team-best 19.7 points, including four games of 30-plus, highlighted by 30 in a Dec. 18 win at Boston.

On the rise: Not far behind Banchero in Orlando’s scoring rundown is second-year forward Franz Wagner, who gave New Orleans an up-close look at his ability and potential on Jan. 20, relying on a versatile offensive game to rack up 30 points in a 123-110 Magic victory. Wagner shot 10/16 from the floor, 5/7 on three-pointers and 5/5 at the foul line. He also notched six rebounds and nine assists.

Previous Game Starting Lineups

ORLANDO (25-36, 13TH IN EAST)

Saturday loss vs. Indiana

Markelle Fultz, Gary Harris, Franz Wagner, Paolo Banchero, Wendell Carter Jr.

Notes: Orlando has already surpassed its win total from 2021-22, having finished last in the East at 22-60. The Magic began this season at 5-20, but have gone 20-16 since. Orlando moved up one slot in last year’s draft lottery to pick Banchero first, leapfrogging Houston (league-worst 20-62) during the May drawing. … Orlando is 3.5 games behind No. 10 Washington (28-32).

NEW ORLEANS (30-31, 10TH IN WEST)

Saturday loss at New York

CJ McCollum, Josh Richardson, Herb Jones, Brandon Ingram, Jonas Valanciunas

Notes: New Orleans needs to go 7-14 or better in its final 21 games to surpass its win total from 2021-22, having finished ninth in the West last season at 36-46. The Pelicans are obviously much closer to .500 now than they were at the end of last season, but the depth of the West has greatly improved in ’22-23. San Antonio was a No. 10 seed and qualified for the play-in tournament last spring at just 34-48.

Pelicans vs. Magic Pregame Report 2/27/2023

FanDuel Keys to the Game

START FASTER
New Orleans cannot continue digging holes at the outset of games. It has lost three straight first quarters by a combined 33 points. The last opening period it won was by a 33-25 margin at Oklahoma City on Feb. 13.

CAPITALIZE ON HOMECOURT
Four consecutive away games preceded Monday’s tilt in the Smoothie King Center. A three-game, weeklong road trip follows it. Add the All-Star break and Monday is the only home game for New Orleans between Feb. 11 and March 7. The Pelicans need to keep getting wins on their home floor (20-10 this season).

MATCHUP TO WATCH
For a second straight game, there is one highly-drafted Duke product at starting forward for both teams. After RJ Barrett helped New York post a victory over New Orleans on Saturday, Banchero will try to do the same for Orlando against Ingram and the Pelicans.