Pelicans typically offer glimmer of hope amid hopelessness
The New Orleans Pelicans showed heart and determination in a 108-103 bounce-back win against the visiting Golden State Warriors on Tuesday night.
The performance was typical of this Pelicans team: they showed their best side after showing their worst side had placed them in a nearly hopeless position.
Just 24 hours earlier they had spit the bit in a 123-108 loss to the same team in the same building. That essentially snuffed out their last gasp at qualifying for the Western Conference play-in tournament.
The win Tuesday night left them with a 30-36 record with six games remaining as they embark on a five-game road trip that begins Friday night in Philadelphia.
They will start the road trip without second-leading scorer Brandon Ingram, who left Tuesday’s game for good after spraining an ankle in the fourth quarter. Ingram will be day to day after the 76ers game.
Mathematically there is a glimmer of hope that the 11th-place Pelicans could reach 10th place and grab the last play-in spot.
The 10th-place Spurs have a brutal schedule and the Pelicans have head-to-head opportunities against the Grizzlies and the Warriors, who aren’t mathematically out of reach.
But let’s be honest: this season is going to end May 16 when the Pelicans face the Lakers in the Smoothie King Center.
The Pelicans are not going to participate in the play-in tournament.
They are not good enough.
They have earned a spot in the draft lottery.
There are 15 teams in the Western Conference. Two-thirds of them are better than the Pelicans.
It has been that way most of the season.
The trademark of this team has been that as soon as they give you ample evidence to determine that they are hopeless they do something that is hopeful.
It happened again Tuesday when Lonzo Ball rebounded from an atrocious shooting performance the night before – 3 of 18, 1 of 9 on 3-pointers – to make 11 of 23 field goals, 7 of 13 3-pointers – and score 33 points to tie the career-high he set three nights earlier in Minnesota.
Zion Williamson demonstrated once again his wisdom that exceeds his age of 20 by assisting on four consecutive baskets and making a game-turning steal and two free throws to orchestrate a 13-5 closing run.
Eric Bledsoe and Naji Marshall helped pick up the slack after Ingram was sidelined. They also helped hold Steph Curry to two points in the fourth quarter after he had scored 76 points during the first seven quarters of the back-to-back meetings.
These Pelicans offer hope for the future even as they offer discouragement for the present.
Williamson has exceeded the nearly unprecedented expectations for him. Ingram is an All-Star-caliber player, though an erratic one. Ball alternately plays like a player who should be retained no matter the cost and one who should be allowed to depart as a restricted free agent during the impending off-season.
An examination of the rest of the roster can wait until this season officially ends in less than two weeks.
The Pelicans are better than the Kings, the Thunder, the Timberwolves and the Rockets. They are worse than everyone else in the Western Conference.
This season is winding down to a very disappointing finish.
It must be noted that this is a very young roster operating in head coach Stan Van Gundy’s first season, which precedes the payoff from multiple future first-round draft choices and the continued maturation of Williamson and other recent draft choices.
Vice President of basketball operations David Griffin hired Van Gundy in large part because of the coach’s ability to instill a defensive temperament in teams and teach young players how to play the game properly.
Neither of those traits – a commitment to defense and consistently complementary basketball – has emerged in this team.
Certainly the absence of meaningful practice time once this compacted season began impaired Van Gundy’s ability to play to his strengths.
Perhaps the expected return to normalcy next season will be helpful in that regard.
If you’re so inclined, there is reason to be hopeful about the future just as this chase for a play-in spot has become hopeless.
And what could be more appropriate for these Pelicans?
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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…