Pelicans’ play-in chances are far more theoretical than practical
NEW ORLEANS – The New Orleans Pelicans are done.
No they’re not.
Well, maybe they’re not.
But probably they are.
The Pelicans have 11 games left in a season that has been defined by the team’s consistent inconsistency.
Whenever it has looked like they were coming together, they have started to fall apart.
And whenever they have appeared to be coming apart at the seams they have stitched things back together.
Lather, rinse, repeat.
The game against the Los Angeles Clippers on Monday night at the Smoothie King Center on Monday night was a microcosm of this season.
The Pelicans looked like a team that wasn’t ready to play as it fell behind the short-handed Clippers, 9-2.
Then everything changed. The Pelicans went on a 27-4 run. They never trailed again in an easy 120-103 victory.
The Pelicans have stayed in character entering this final stretch of a 72-game season.
Let’s pick their story up with their recent four-game losing streak that featured come-from-ahead overtime losses to the Wizards and Knicks.
At that point their chances of qualifying for a spot in the play-in tournament were barely fogging the mirror.
Then they went to Orlando and beat the Magic 135-100 last Thursday.
Granted, the Magic are possibly the least competitive team in the NBA right now, but by achieving their largest victory margin of the season the Pelicans looked like a team that was getting serious about taking advantage of its dwindling opportunities.
That dominant performance preceded a must-win game against the Spurs, one of two teams the Pelicans had a realistic chance of catching, last Saturday in the Smoothie King Center.
The Pelicans had a five-point lead late in the fourth quarter but faded in a 110-108 loss.
That left them 4½ games behind the Spurs, who claimed the tie-breaker by winning the season series 2-1.
In other words, the chances of catching the Spurs all but vanished.
The Pelicans seemed finished.
But they were four games behind the Warriors and they play them three times down the stretch. So by sweeping those three games they could make up all but one game of that deficit and claim the tie-breaker, meaning they needed to make up just one more game against the league to surpass the Warriors for a play-in spot.
That’s quite an uphill climb, but most of what needed to be done was in the Pelicans’ control.
Their most immediate challenge was to stay within striking distance of the Warriors, or preferably move closer to them, before the head-to-head match-ups on May 3 (home), 4 (home) and 14 (away).
The Pelicans began their game against the title-contending Clippers on Monday like a team that was hung over from the loss to Spurs and discouraged about being able to recover.
But recover they did in a game that resembled a 135-115 victory against the Clippers 43 days earlier.
And that’s typical of these Pelicans – twice routing a legitimate title contender to win the season series 2-1.
The Pelicans have won several games against elite teams and lost a similar number against terrible teams.
Now they need to win nearly every game against both good and bad teams – especially those three against the Warriors, who still had a four-game lead on them after Monday’s games.
The Pelicans have eight road games and three home games left. Next up is a three-game road trip that features games against the Nuggets (Wednesday), the Thunder (Thursday) and the Timberwolves (Saturday).
The Nuggets are title contenders and the Pelicans are 1-1 against them. The Thunder are terrible and the Pelicans are 1-1 against them. The Timberwolves are terrible and the Pelicans are 0-2 against them, losing by a combined 40 points.
If form holds, the Pelicans are likely to knock off the Nuggets and seem rejuvenated.
Then fall short against either or both of the Thunder and the Timberwolves and seem finished.
But we’ll see.
The bottom line is the Pelicans’ chances of earning a play-in spot are far more theoretical than practical.
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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…