Saturday night felt like a stepping stone win for the New Orleans, unfortunately, there is no time for back pats or laurel resting. The Pelicans next face off against LeBron James and the Cavaliers. After that, they will take on Kobe’s toothless Lakers, which will be followed by the Rubio-less Timberwolves. The Pels will need to focus and take care of business because, following the aforementioned trio, they will embark upon a grueling road trip that will see them play ten of the next thirteen games on the road.
Age is but a number
The good news is that several of the upcoming teams they play are considered either average or below average. The bad news is that the Pelicans are quite youthful and young teams generally struggle on the road (sixth youngest team per RealGM.com).
Looking back at the 2013-2014 NBA season, the five youngest teams had a combined road record of 48-159. I know what you’re thinking, "Yea, but Philly’s Guinness Book challenging tank job is skewing the numbers." Nope, even if we remove Philly and add in the sixth youngest team (Houston Rockets) we still get a record of 60-147.
So, am I declaring doom for our young Pels? No, the youth road trend can be bucked if you are exceptionally talented (see the Rockets or the Thunder), and the Pelicans are undisputedly more talented than the other babies of the league. With that said, I would expect them to hover around .500 on the road.
Pack your bags
The first half of the road trip features games against Portland, Sacramento, Denver, Utah, Atlanta and Washington. Save the Blazers, these are all teams you would expect the Pelicans to beat; however this is the NBA and the grueling schedule dictates a few WTF losses. I expect the Pelicans to get up for the Portland game, defeat the Blazers in Rip City and immediately follow that up with a letdown in Sacramento on a back-to-back.
The second half of the road swing will see the Pels travel west to face Golden State, LA Clippers, LA Lakers, and then Dallas. New Orleans will face those four teams plus the Knicks at home in a seven day span in what will be one of the toughest stretches of the season.
Long road trips can make or break young squads. Teams often point to them as a time when they gel or find their identity. This makes sense as they will be spending almost all their time together on buses, planes and in hotels.
In my not so humble opinion, the stretch between Portland (November 17) and Dallas (December 10) will be the most pivotal of the first half of this season. If the Brow Boys (that’s something I’m trying out) can emerge from that stretch confident, healthy and over .500, the rest of the league will be on notice.
The balance of December will be challenging, but the schedule turns much softer in January. If the Pelicans are somewhere in realm of 13-8 on December 11th, I suspect we will be seeing much more of the chemistry and ball movement we saw in San Antonio, rather than the discombobulated team we saw down the stretch against Dallas.