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Pelicans Progressing on Both Sides of the Ball

The process is beginning to bear fruit and the Pelicans are benefiting on offense and defense.

Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Monty Williams has preached the process to his players during his tenure in New Orleans. One game at a time is his mantra as the Pelicans push for the playoffs. It is impossible on one night to win three or four games in a row, just as it is impossible to make a ten point basket to get back into the game. In order to emerge victorious this Pelican team has to win each possession.

For Dell Demps, his process is constantly in motion. Trying to improve the team along the margins after big moves for Omer Asik and Jrue Holiday is a difficult business. One many, especially those grading trades for ESPN, feel has been an abject failure. Quincy Pondexter trade? C. Norris Cole trade? D. Thankfully no one is looking at the Pelican record since the Pondexter trade (18-10) or Cole trade (9-2) instead.

Three Different Teams

The Pelican season can be divided into three different sections.

The first 12 games were relatively healthy. Omer Asik missed four games due to back pain but Alexis Ajinca filled in well enough. During this time the opening night starting lineup (Jrue Holiday, Eric Gordon, Tyreke Evans, Anthony Davis, Omer Asik) logged 145 minutes together. They have played just 24 minutes together since.

In the following 29 games the Pelicans adjusted poorly to the loss of Eric Gordon. Austin Rivers, Darius Miller, and Luke Babbitt all took turns in the starting lineup. The "alternating wins and losses" Pelicans took hold. Wing defense suffered and it was a smorgasbord at the rim for opponents. Eric Gordon returned on January 5th and took a couple games to knock off the rust. He and Jrue Holiday would get just three and a half games together. Quincy Pondexter arrived, then Anthony Davis went down. Ugly losses to Philadelphia and New York followed.

New Orleans rallied back and rattled off their first significant win streak (four) when Davis returned. Since then they've been one of the better teams in the league and significantly improved, even on defense. Shaving a full 3.4 points per 100 possessions off the defensive rating is good. Doing it while facing the Clippers, Hawks, Thunder (twice), Raptors, and Pacers? All teams who rank in the top eight in offensive rating during that span?

Here's a look at each stretch with some high level statistics.

W L Win % ORtg DRtg Net Rating
First 12 Games 7 5 0.583 (13th) 108.5 (4th) 105.0 (21st) 3.4 (10th)
Next 29 Games 13 16 0.448 (16th) 104.3 (14th) 106.6 (27th) -2.3 (18th)
Last 24 Games 16 8 0.667 (6th) 106.2 (4th) 103.2 (20th) 3.0 (10th)

Road to Come

The schedule does not lighten up for the home stretch. The Pelicans have just six games against opponents below .500 to wrap things up. A newly rejuvenated Denver Nuggets team starts things off on Sunday in the Smoothie King Center. Under interim head coach Melvin Hunt the Nuggets are 4-2 including a blowout of the Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday night. The Kings twice (also under a new head coach in George Karl) and the Timberwolves twice (with veteran presence Kevin Garnett) pepper the schedule. The closest thing to a "gimme" game is a trip to face the Los Angeles Lakers in the Staples Center. On April Fool's Day...

A brutal west coast swing awaits the Pelicans next weekend. First to Phoenix, then a back to back against Golden State, and ending with a roadie against the Los Angeles Clippers in a battle of their own for playoff seeding. Oklahoma City faces a slightly easier path. The Dallas Mavericks (just 4.5 up on the Pelicans) face an absurdly difficult closing stretch.

32 days remain on the NBA calender. These three teams are likely to battle for the final two playoff spots in the coming weeks. Every single result is important. Every injury, even if it just takes a key component out for a half, is critical. Hopefully the Pelicans can get as healthy as possible before Sunday. Things are about to get really interesting.