Shocking as it might seem, the New Orleans Pelicans have started to make some strides towards improvement. Posting a .500 record over 18 games is not indicative of a good team, but it is evidence this team is not complete disaster. Both the offense and defense are trending in a positive direction but there is still a long way to go before I go proclaiming they are a real playoff contender.
Pelicans through November 19th 1-11 ORtg: 99.8 (21st) DRtg: 110.0 (30th)— The Bird Writes (@thebirdwrites) December 28, 2015
Pelicans since November 20th 9-9 ORtg: 104.7 (7th) DRtg: 106.3 (27th)— The Bird Writes (@thebirdwrites) December 28, 2015
Projections are beginning to notice as the Pelicans now sit 9th in playoff projections according to ESPN's Basketball Power Index. If a .500 record is all that is necessary for the fifth seed the Pelicans are a long way from tossing in the towel. In August I mentioned a record around .500 as New Year's Eve approached would be an accomplishment. Injuries ensured even .500 was too much to ask. Despite that, New Orleans is just three games out of the final playoff spot with 52 games to play. Last season they were 4.5 games out with just 11 games remaining and in 10th in the West.
In the Pelicans favor, the injury bug seems to have migrated from the Crescent City and infected a number of other contenders vying for a playoff spot. The Phoenix Suns lost Eric Bledsoe for six weeks and fired two assistant coaches. Alec Burks suffered an ankle fracture and will be out until the All-Star Break. Burks joins Rudy Gobert (out until at least mid-January with an MCL sprain) and Dante Exum (out for the season with a torn ACL) on a growing list of injured players for the Utah Jazz. Even the Los Angeles Clippers are facing injuries of their own. Blake Griffin will miss at least two weeks with a partially torn quad; the Pelicans play the Clippers twice in the next two weeks.
NBA Power Rankers were mildly impressed by the 2-1 week with New Orleans moving up in all four polls.
Last Week: 26 - This Week: 23
The Pelicans are still in 14th place in the West and still inconsistent. But there have been signs of progress, especially on offense. Alvin Gentry has Jrue Holiday embracing his role off the bench (he slowed down James Harden in Saturday's win over Houston), but has yet to rely much on a lineup of Holiday, Eric Gordon, Tyreke Evans, Ryan Anderson and Anthony Davis, which is a plus-35 in just 28 minutes.
Last Week: 24 - This Week: 20
Who would have ever predicted that residing in the West could actually help the Pels? Thanks to a 2-1 week that so easily could have been 3-0 if Christmas Day turned out a little differently, New Orleans awoke Monday just 3 1/2 games out of the No. 8 spot. The Pels, as late as April 1 of last season, were still 2 1/2 games back of No. 8.
Last Week: 26 - This Week: 22
As ready as I’ve been to write the Pelicans off for good, they’re only three games out of the eighth playoff spot and have won four of six. The wins haven’t always been impressive, but if New Orleans continues to take care of lower-tier teams it could return to the conversation faster than we thought.
Last Week: 26 - This Week: 22
OK, forget the 10-win hole under .500 for a second. They've won three of four with the one loss coming in overtime to the Heat in a really tough game. They're not good, but there's the makings of a not-bad team hidden deep within those woods.