Less than two weeks ago, we asked whether New Orleans was still in the playoff race. They had just lost Jrue Holiday for an extended period of absence. They had not won consecutive games for over a month and were coming off relatively fresh losses to the Celtics, Sixers and the Knicks. Pessimism was rampant and many were advocating that management should leave Monty Williams permanently behind in the Big Apple.
Well, since that low point, the Pelicans have won 6 of their last 7 games, including wins against the Mavericks, Clippers and Hawks. After sitting four games behind the 8th seeded Suns, the Pelicans are now a mere game out of the playoffs. In the span of just 6 matchups, they've gained three games on not only the Suns but the Thunder as well. Seems rather foolish at this point that anyone would have already dismissed the Pels from playoff contention this season, eh?
The biggest question on everyone's mind right now has to be: Can the Pelicans continue to enjoy this type of success in the win column? First, let's glance at some team offensive numbers.
|Offensive Rating||eFG percentage||3-point percentage||FT rate||Turnover %||Assist Ratio|
|Pelicans Last 7 Games||109.7||50.0%||39.7%||.261||13.2%||18.3%|
Nothing glaring here. The biggest difference, the 3-point %, has largely been buoyed by Eric Gordon's hot streak. Over the last 7 games, he's been making 54.3% of his 5 three point attempts a game. Otherwise, the Pelicans numbers during their best stretch of basketball are mostly in line with their season averages. Let's have a look on the other side of the ball.
|Defensive Rating||Opp. eFG Percentage||Opp. 3-point Percentage||Opp FT rate||Defensive Rebound %||Opp. Turnover Ratio|
|Pelicans Last 7 Games||98.9||46.3%||32.3%||.212||76.6%||11.4%|
Boom. Here's the biggest reason for the Pelicans most recent 6-1 record. The defense has been stingy but not out of this world good. That 98.9 Defensive Rating is only the 11th best mark in the last 7 games, the opponent 46.3 eFG% 9th best. There has been improvement across the board, yet outside of possessing the 2nd best opponent free throw rate, no statistics sit atop a category.
Have the Pelicans truly turned the corner defensively? After being one of the worst teams in the league for the majority of the season, will they remain in the top half for the remainder of the schedule?
No one knows for sure, but I'm a huge fan of their 18-12 Western Conference record and their division leading 6-4 showing. They have proven they can hang with the best teams in the league and then some. In the last 4 seasons, only last year's Suns missed the playoffs after finishing with a record of over .500 in Western Conference play.
If the improvement is real, there is no doubt that the Pelicans will continue to move up the standings. Their offense has been solid all season, but with a defense now able to hold it's own, teams above New Orleans in the standings better take notice. Any slip-ups and you'll witness the Pelicans gently flying on by.