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Brandon Ingram and the New Orleans Pelicans are For Real

Don't look now, but Brandon Ingram and the Pelicans are cooking. New Orleans pulled off a big win Thursday night, taking down the Utah Jazz thanks to a career-high 49 points from Ingram. The team has now won nine of its last 12 games. With Zion Williamson's return on the horizon, the Pelicans might be a team to watch in the Western Conference.

Ingram was brilliant Thursday night, validating what I've been saying about him all season. He scored 49 points while adding eight rebounds, six assists and a block. He was wildly efficient as well, making 15 of the 25 shots he took, hitting three of eight triples, and making 16 of the 20 free throws. He's quickly become the Pelicans' go-to player and should absolutely be in the All-Star Game this year.

Ingram entered Thursday night averaging 25.1 points, 6.8 rebounds and 4.2 assists in 34.3 minutes per game this season. Those are all career-highs, as are his three-point percentage (40.7) and PER (21.22). His PER is more than seven full points higher than his previous career-best (13.90).

It's not just Ingram who deserves praise. Jrue Holiday and J.J. Redick have both been good for the Pelicans, though both are currently out. Lonzo Ball, while maddening at times, has improved. In January, Ball is averaging 17.3 points, 8.4 assists and 7.4 rebounds per game. Meanwhile, Josh Hart has provided steady bench minutes off the bench, Derrick Favors has provided a veteran lift and uber-talented rookie Jaxson Hayes has been making solid contributions this month.

The Pelicans have some young guys coming into their own and a few veterans to show them how to play the game. Oh, and Williamson is set to make his debut next week.

As shocking as it may sound, the Pelicans are only 3.5 games out of a playoff spot in the Western Conference. They will also face the easiest schedule of any remaining Western Conference team for the rest of the season. This is a team that could absolutely make the postseason far ahead of schedule.

Ingram and company are for real and they're improving at an incredible rate. Watch out.