Life amid COVID is headed in the right direction even though the Pelicans aren’t
The New Orleans Pelicans returned to the court Thursday night.
The 135-105 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves at the Smoothie King Center was the Pelicans’ first game after a six-day All-Star Break.
The loss to the worst team in the NBA after New Orleans jumped to a 24-8 lead was a disaster.
But the Pelicans’ ongoing poor play shouldn’t overshadow the big picture.
At least not in the short term.
The return to action recalled the beginning of a much longer hiatus.
It was one year ago Thursday that the Pelicans were getting ready to play in the Kings in Sacramento.
It was the last game on a Wednesday night NBA schedule.
Early in the evening, Utah center Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19 and the Jazz’s game at Oklahoma City was postponed.
In short order, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver announced that the New Orleans-Sacramento game would be the last game played before the league suspended its season for at least a month.
No one knew when or even if the season would resume.
Just minutes before the Pelicans game was scheduled to tip-off, it too was postponed. The New Orleans organization didn’t want to play in a game officiated by a crew that included a member that had worked a Utah game 48 hours earlier.
The NBA was on lockdown and it was an historic moment in the COVID-19 pandemic.
The coronavirus had been on everyone’s radar for several weeks. It had become apparent that things were getting worse and far more was uncertain than was certain.
But political, sports and business leaders had mostly taken a wait-and-see approach to how they would respond to the spreading virus.
Then the NBA shut down.
The next day college basketball conference tournaments were canceled, then both NCAA basketball tournaments – including the women’s Final Four, which was scheduled for the Smoothie King Center – were canceled.
The Major League Baseball season was delayed and the NHL season was suspended.
Then more dominoes fell and schools, businesses and government buildings were shut down.
Society was turned upside and soon the number of COVID cases and deaths rose exponentially.
One year later they continue to rise but at a much slower pace while the number of citizens being vaccinated against COVID rises faster and faster.
The circumstances surrounding the Pelicans from last March 11 to this March 11 are as good a gauge as any of how life amid COVID has changed during that time.
For the better – finally.
The NBA finished its truncated 2019-20 season in a “bubble” near Orlando, Florida and even crowned a champion (the Los Angeles Lakers) during the second week of October, shortly before a new season would normally begin.
The league started the current season a couple months late because of the delayed ending to last season and shortened this year’s schedule by 10 games to 72.
The Pelicans have had two games postponed; one has been made up and the other should be made up as well.
The number of spectators allowed into the Smoothie King Center has been increased three times – from a dipping-of-the-toe total of 750 to 1,440 to 2,700 and now to 3,700 beginning with Thursday’s game.
Perhaps that number will increase yet again before the regular season comes to an end in mid-May, though a few more performances like the one Thursday might make it impossible to find 3,000 citizens willing to show up for a game.
Things aren’t normal, but they’re getting closer to normalcy, seemingly having at least crossed mid-court – even if the team is spinning its wheels.
The Saints and the NFL completed a full season with remarkably few disruptions, relatively speaking. The next training camp figures to start on time and the number of spectators allowed into the Superdome could exceed the 3,000 that attended the final home game in January.
High school and college teams got back into action relatively early in the fall semester and the winter and spring sports are getting closer to normal routines.
Colleges are planning a return to full schedules – and perhaps even full stadiums – in the fall.
This season has been disappointing for New Orleans thus far and Thursday was the lowest point yet, but with 35 games remaining a run toward the playoffs isn’t out of the question – at least mathematically.
The Pelicans will host Cleveland on Friday and the Los Angeles Clippers on Sunday as they try to demonstrate that this season isn’t a lost cause.
Time will tell.
One year after that postponement in Sacramento, nothing is guaranteed and a complete return to normalcy is still a ways off.
But things are headed in the right direction – even if the Pelicans aren’t.
And that’s more important than any game – even one as terrible as Thursday’s.
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Les East is a nationally renowned freelance journalist. The New Orleans area native’s blog on SportsNOLA.com was named “Best Sports Blog” in 2016 by the Press Club of New Orleans. For 2013 he was named top sports columnist in the United States by the Society of Professional Journalists. He has since become a valued contributor for CCS. The Jesuit High…