The NBA season is nearly one-third over, and the team with the best record in the Western Conference is… the New Orleans Pelicans. They have the highest average point differential of any team in the conference by almost two points, outscoring teams by 7.1 points per outing.
The team with the second-highest point differential in the West is Phoenix, who New Orleans beat Friday night, 128-117. If you remember how last season finished for the Pelicans, it came at the hands of the Suns. However, that series was a lot closer than a 1-8 first-round matchup should’ve been, and the way Chris Paul and Co. had to work foreshadowed the team’s early exit to Dallas in Round 2.
It also gave us Jose Alvarado versus Chris Paul, which has turned into the Pelicans versus Chris Paul. The reason people love and hate CP3 is the same. He believes the game should be respected and played the right way, and is vocal about it. (If you hate him for how he interacts with refs, you probably hate most NBA superstars.)
So in the waning seconds of a decided game that was hotly contested for stretches of the fourth, Paul was always going to get pissed at Larry Nance Jr. and Williamson for throwing down celebratory, wide-open dunks.
There are two camps here. The first is anti-CP3, and they like to point out that grudges seem to occur with the Point God more than his fans would like to admit. James Harden, Scott Foster, Patrick Beverley, Blake Griffin, etc. It’s a pretty long list that’s tough to argue against.
The second train of thought is the pro-Paul crowd who openly acknowledges that he can be kind of a dick, but that he’s not wrong. The rogues gallery I just rattled off has more or less proven to be exactly who Paul thinks they are. They think he’s Captain America out there with a pristine moral compass that can’t be challenged.
Carrying yourself in that manner also can come off like Cyclops and the X-Men. Fucking shit, Scott, if you condescendingly tell me what to do one more time, I’m going to mess up on purpose solely to piss you off. No matter how right Paul is — and he’s right more often than not — a few people are always going to be put off by him.
(I don’t know who over at Marvel came up with the idea of making fun of the kiss-ass, Boy Scout leader, but they really shaped the way I respond to proactive people.)
Was CP3 right to get upset at the Pelicans for an impromptu dunk contest? If you have an ounce of competitiveness in you, all showboaters deserve a shot to the ribs.
I don’t think last year’s series can be overlooked either. Phoenix was 21-5 after 26 games a season ago, and they’re probably not too happy that the team who made them bleed in Round 1 is sitting atop the conference and 360 windmilling in dunks at the buzzer.
The difference this time around is NBA Twitter loves the Pelicans and Zion, and even though I’d be all for someone hip-checking Williamson after that dunk, I’m not the only one who still wanted to see that dunk. Alvarado hounding Paul is exactly how CP3 used to get on the nerves of opposing guards, and he and the entire Suns team are coming off like that friend who can hurl insults all day but can’t handle return fire.
Take it easy. You won 64 games last year and got shown the door like a bunch of dogs. If you want to be angry at someone, get mad at yourselves for being down by 40 at home to Boston on national TV on Wednesday.
Quick note on how en fuego Zion has been lately
The prevailing logic surrounding NOLA’s basketball franchise after the strong end to the season and impressive playoff showing was, “wait until Zion gets back.” While it doesn’t seem that simple considering the injury history, Williamson has made it look that easy. Over this six-game win streak, he’s 65-97 from the field, averaging 29, 9, and 5, and getting to the line 10 times per game while hitting 75 percent of his freebies.
Here are his highlights against the Suns. Enjoy your Saturday.