Pelicans with bad loss at Hawks to cap good road trip
It is a glass half empty or half full question.
If I would have told you the New Orleans Pelicans would go 2-1 on their just completed road trip, would you have been pleased?
I certainly would have been, given that one of the games was in Boston against the best team in the Eastern conference.
Ironically, the Pelicans got an unexpected, improbable win at Boston as a solid underdog. New Orleans was poised to return home on a season-best four-game win streak with tremendous momentum and poised to take over fifth in the Western conference.
Instead, New Orleans now finds itself in a three-way tie for sixth and just a half game ahead of ninth-place Denver in the West after a debilitating 94-93 loss at lowly Atlanta.
Just when you are ready to embrace this team for its potential, there is a performance like Wednesday night.
In fairness, the Pelicans had every excuse to spit the bit. They were coming off of consecutive overtime games, the second of which was an emotionally and physically draining effort in a huge victory at Boston the night before. It was a late night flight, a short night in the sheets and weary legs once they took the court, though you never would have known by watching the first half.
New Orleans hit on most cylinders, taking a 32-25 lead after one quarter.
With a 19-point lead in the second quarter and a 15-point lead at the half (60-45) against a team tied for the worst record in the league, it appeared that the fatigued Pelicans would take care of business, as good teams do, and post a workmanlike, essential victory in the quest to be a championship contender.
New Orleans is not a championship contender and that was painfully evident again Wednesday night.
You could not realistically expect another monster game out of Anthony Davis. He was clearly spent and understandably so but the Pelicans will not win with Davis scoring just eight points in 38 minutes, not even against the Hawks.
With the game on the line, Davis split a pair of free throws, Demarcus Cousins split a pair of free throws and Cousins missed a contested six-footer at the buzzer. Just one made three throw would have given New Orleans a chance. Both would have won it. With the game on the line, you need your stars to produce.
The Pelicans remain a solid, sometimes good team that can score the ball and provide excitement on a nightly basis.
Next comes a home game with another bad team in Memphis. Of course, the Grizzlies have beaten the Pelicans twice already this season. A home game with Chicago, another losing team, follows, before a trip to Charlotte to play the less than .500 Hornets.
That’s the good news.
The bad news is that New Orleans often plays to the level of its competition.
In the NBA, you will have ups and downs in the midst of a grueling schedule over the course of a long season. Everyone will throw in a clunker or two.
The good teams keep those clunkers to two or so.
The problem with the Pelicans is that they have used up their mulligans, losing to way too many bad teams.
There are home losses to the Knicks, Grizzlies, Mavericks, Kings and Magic.
There are road losses to the Hawks, Grizzlies, Jazz.
If you want to be a winning team, that is one or two too many. If you want to be a playoff team, that is three or four too many. It you want to be a championship contender, that is five or six too many.
The Pelicans cannot afford many more of these bad losses. The Clippers have hit their stride and will make the playoffs, if they remain healthy. Portland will contend for a playoff spot with an elite backcourt. Denver has a good front line and will be there at the end. Oklahoma City has won three straight and certainly looks the part of a playoff team.
The math is clear.
There are five teams and four playoff spots available. Golden State, Houston, San Antonio and Minnesota appear to be locks to reach the playoffs in the top four spots, barring a T-Wolves collapse. The Thunder could conceivably make a run at Minnesota for the fourth spot.
As I have stated before, the Pelicans are good enough to get to the fifth spot and good enough to have a shot to beat Minnesota or Oklahoma City in a series.
On the other hand, the Pelicans are also shaky enough to miss the playoffs in the ninth spot. Is the glass half empty or half full? With this team, it is hard to figure.
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Born and raised in the New Orleans area, CCSE CEO Ken Trahan has been a sports media fixture in the community for nearly four decades. Ken started NewOrleans.com/Sports with Bill Hammack and Don Jones in 2008. In 2011, the site became SportsNOLA.com. On August 1, 2017, Ken helped launch CrescentCitySports.com. Having accumulated national awards/recognition (National Sports Media Association, National Football…