Pelicans’ season looking a lot like the Saints’ season

  • icon
  • icon
  • icon
  • icon
Brandon Ingram
(Photo: Stephen Lew)

The New Orleans Pelicans’ season is starting to look a lot like the New Orleans Saints’ season.

That’s not encouraging for those hoping to see the Pelicans make a playoff run, but there’s still time for things to change for the better.

The math of the Pelicans-Saints comparison doesn’t add up precisely because of the inherent differences between an 82-game season and a 17-game season.

But the general ups and downs of the two seasons have provided similar experiences to this point.

The Saints’ season got off to a hopeful start (although briefly) with the dramatic fourth-quarter comeback in a victory over the Falcons in Atlanta.

The Pelicans’ season got off to an even more encouraging start as they moved to the top spot in the Western Conference in early December.

The Saints 1-0 start came at the hands of their most bitter rival and the Pelicans’ ascension came courtesy of a seven-game winning streak that climaxed with back-to-back wins against a Phoenix team that is bucking to become their most bitter rival.

But the Saints’ opening victory was followed by a three-game losing streak and the Pelicans’ visit to the top spot in the Western Conference was followed by a four-game losing streak.

A one-step-forward-two-step-back stretch during the middle of the season left the Saints at a crossroads as they headed to Tampa Bay in early December. A victory would give them a firm grip on their fate for the NFC South championship and a loss would all but mathematically eliminate them from playoff contention.

The Saints outplayed the Buccaneers for more than 50 minutes and seemed to have the game in hand before a series of botched opportunities enabled Tampa Bay to escape with a victory that left the season teetering as the team entered its bye week.

The Pelicans also experienced missed opportunities immediately ahead of their version of a bye week – the NBA All-Star Break. New Orleans lost four of its last 16 games, a stretch that included a 10-game losing streak, to slide into a precarious position in the tightly bunched West.

To the Saints’ credit they responded to the loss in Tampa with their best stretch of the season, winning three straight games to keep alive their faint playoff hopes, which finally ended just a few hours after the Saints upset the eventual NFC champion Philadelphia Eagles to move to 7-9.

With the post-season out of the equation the Saints lost their season finale to the Carolina Panthers and finished with their worst record in 17 years.

The Pelicans have now entered the stretch run of their season and a finish even more disappointing than the Saints’ is very much on the picture, though a much better one is also attainable.

The start to the post-break stretch has started badly – with a 115-110 loss at Toronto on Thursday and a desultory 128-106 loss to the Knicks on Saturday night in New York.

When Sunday arrived, New Orleans was in 10th place in the West – the final play-in spot – with three teams – the Thunder, Blazers and Lakers – tailgating in their rearview mirror. But the view through the front windshield showed the sixth and final playoff spot in clear view – though the Jazz, Timberwolves, Warriors and Maverciks would all have to be passed in order to avoid the play-in tournament.

The Pelicans still have 21 games – essentially a quarter of the season – to change the ending of this parallel script.

They, like the Saints, have experienced an inordinate number of injuries to key players that have contributed to but not excused the erratic play. It’s still possible that Zion Williamson will return and maybe even with enough games left to regain the All-Star form he showed before injuring a hamstring on the second day of 2023.

The Pelicans, like the Saints, have performed in a manner that has attracted doubts about their relatively inexperienced head coach.

In Dennis Allen’s case, his first Saints team’s performance briefly brought into question whether he would get a second team.

In Willie Green’s case, the job he did in leading the Pelicans into the playoffs as a rookie head coach last season bought him the benefit of the doubt. But much of that benefit has vanished in the eyes of the more temperamental observers as the Pelicans have gone 7-18 since New Year’s Eve.

The Pelicans are back in the Smoothie King Center, where they are 20-10 this season, for the first time in 17 days when they face the Orlando Magic on Monday night. Then it’s off for a series of three games in six days on the road, where they are 10-21.

Of course, the Pelicans are a better team with Zion Williamson than they are without him. But for the foreseeable future they are a team without him.

And for the majority of the last several weeks, their drop-off in performance has exceeded that which can be attributed solely to his absence.

For the next 21 games all that matters is how Green and his players – regardless of who is or isn’t available on any given night – perform.

Can they manage a better ending than the Saints did?

  • < PREV Flashback: New Orleans area Goldens made baseball a family affair
  • NEXT > McNeese drops finale 12-6 to UTA

Les East

CCS/106.1 FM/Daily Iberian

Les East is a nationally renowned freelance journalist. The New Orleans area native’s blog on 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…

Read more >