Pelicans face post-All Star break pressure to make NBA playoffs
With the All-Star break set to end Friday as the New Orleans Pelicans take on the Miami Heat at the Smoothie King Center, the franchise enters a period that could define its future.
New Orleans starts its final 25 games sitting in the eighth spot in the Western Conference standings. The Pelicans are just three games out of third place, but sit only a half-game in front of the Los Angeles Clippers.
The Pelicans went into the break winners of three in a row with Anthony Davis returning to form as one of the NBA’s dominant forces and the team’s bench stepping up. Nikola Mirotic has made the team better on both ends, and the bench unit, with or without Mirotic has improved as well. Emeka Okafor has also been an unexpected find, returning to the league after four years to provide the Pels with tough interior defense, hard picks, and his patented tap outs on the glass.
That isn’t to say the Pelicans don’t still have their issues. The third quarter lapses, the inconsistent defense, and the struggles to win at home have kept the Pelicans from reaching loftier heights.
Even with all of that, the Pelicans remain one of three teams in the Western Conference with a winning record at home and on the road. Their 16 road wins are third best in the West and tied for fourth best overall in the league.
The Smoothie King Center has been a different story. No Western Conference playoff contender has fewer home wins than the Pels. Making things even more complicated is the fact that New Orleans plays nine of its final 14 home games against winning teams, including five against teams ahead of them in the standings.
The road slate isn’t much easier. The Pelicans play eight of their last 11 road games against teams with winning records. It’s a schedule that includes Milwaukee, San Antonio (twice), the Clippers (twice), Houston, Cleveland, and Golden State. New Orleans is 5-5 against those opponents this season.
Another concern is the Pelicans’ record against Western Conference teams in general. The Pels are 15-19 against conference opponents this season, and have 19 games left against their Western counterparts. And, while the Pelicans are 16-7 against the East, the seven teams they will face (Miami, Milwaukee, Washington, Charlotte, Boston, Indiana, and Cleveland) have a combined 56 percent winning percentage.
This isn’t to say that the Pelicans can’t or won’t make the playoffs. Essentially, the Pels are already in the playoffs. Every one of these 25 games is vital to their chances of returning to the postseason for the first time in three years.
If the Pelicans do get there, chances are Dell Demps, Alvin Gentry and the core of this team remains, but failure puts everything in question.
Plain and simple, it’s gut-check time for the New Orleans Pelicans. Let’s see exactly what they’re made of.
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Sports 1280am host/CCS reporter
David Grubb has more than a decade of experience in the sports industry. He began his career with KLAX-TV in Alexandria, La. and followed that up with a stint as an reporter and anchor with WGGB-TV in Springfield, Mass. After spending a few years away from the industry, David worked as sports information director for Southern University at New Orleans…